News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Savings-Account Bill Faces Presidential Veto

The Senate passed a compromise "education savings accounts" plan on June 24, but the 59-36 vote in its favor did not provide a veto-proof margin.

The bill, HR 2646, last week was on its way to President Clinton, who previously promised a veto. The measure would amend the federal tax code to allow parents to set up tax-free accounts for their children's K-12 and college expenses. Contributions of up to $2,000 a year would be allowed by any individual, business, or organization to cover a wide range of educational expenses, including private school tuition. ("Hill Negotiators Unveil Revised Education-Tax-Breaks Bill," June 17, 1998.)

Eight Democrats voted for the Republican-backed initiative, which is one of the GOP's priorities and may be the only major piece of education legislation to reach the White House before Congress adjourns later this year. Republican Sens. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and John H. Chafee of Rhode Island voted against the bill.

GAO Estimates Cost of National Tests

If all of the nation's roughly 8 million 4th and 8th graders in public and private schools were to take President Clinton's planned voluntary national tests in reading and mathematics, the price tag could run $96 million a year, a report says.

The tests' future is in doubt on Capitol Hill. Relatively few states and districts have signed up for them so far. And no decisions have been made about who would bear that cost after the first year of testing, notes the June 18 report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The Department of Education has said it would pay for giving the tests the first time.

The GAO report was requested by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., both staunch opponents of the proposed tests. The $96 million estimate from the Education Department assumes a $12-per-child cost for each of the students eligible to take the tests, which have not yet been approved by Congress. If Congress agreed, the first full administration of the tests would be in 2001. The report also estimates the cost to the federal government for developing one complete set of tests at $15 million.

Clinton Wants Scrutiny of Teen Smoking

Is it Marlboro, Camel, or some other brand? President Clinton says he wants to know which cigarette brands teenagers are smoking and which tobacco companies are targeting their advertising campaigns to young people.

As part of the annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Mr. Clinton has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to ask smokers between ages 12 and 17 which brands they smoke. The results are expected to give parents and public-health officials more information about teenage tobacco use.

The president made the announcement late last month while attending Vice President Al Gore's annual conference on families in Nashville, Tenn. At the same event, Mr. Clinton announced an initiative involving eight federal agencies and designed to bring health coverage to some of the nation's estimated 10 million uninsured children. Plans include sending letters to federal workers--including Head Start teachers--to urge them to make sure the children they work with are enrolled in either Medicaid or the new Children's Health Insurance Program. HHS will also distribute a brochure to child-care providers to help them identify and enroll uninsured children in a health-care program.

Riley Selects Two New Department Officials

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has named two new members to the Department of Education's headquarters staff.

Peggy S. Kerns is the new deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental and constituent relations. Ms. Kerns was a Democratic member of the Colorado House of Representatives from 1989 to 1997, and became minority leader there in 1994. In her new position, she will coordinate the Education Department's interactions with governors and state officials, agencies, and legislators.

Claudia Withers has been named the department's deputy general counsel. Ms. Withers served previously as the executive director of the Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, a civil rights research and advocacy organization.

She will oversee the division of business and administrative law, the office that handles employment, labor, and privacy issues, as well as the division of regulatory services, which helps write regulations for laws passed by Congress.

Vol. 17, Issue 42, Page 28

Published in Print: July 8, 1998, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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