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Election Seasoning

It's back-to-school and back-to-Capitol-Hill time, a convergence that had Washington lawmakers scurrying to microphones last week to unveil a clutch of catchy-sounding education bills to capture public attention.

Fresh from their August recess—and just two months away from the midterm elections—members of both parties rolled out legislative initiatives at competing press conferences.

Several Democrats, led by Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, unveiled the proposed Student Bill of Rights Act of 2002. It would, among other provisions, compel states to ensure that all school districts within state lines received comparable educational services.

"Poor children in every state are still the least likely to get a quality education," Mr. Fattah said.

Finding yet another play on the title of the K-12 education law President Bush signed last January, several GOP senators unveiled the "No Child EVER Left Behind" initiative. It proposes to make permanent a set of education tax credits, most of which are set to expire in 2010.

Not all of the action last week was at press conferences. The House Ways and Means Committee passed, on a largely party-line vote, what it calls the Back to School Tax Relief Act of 2002. It would allow families of lower income levels to deduct $3,000 in K-12 educational expenses, including tuition at private schools. A day earlier, Democrats defeated a measure brought before the full House that would have made permanent certain other education tax measures already in law.

Meanwhile, the House Education and the Workforce Committee overwhelmingly passed a measure that would offer student-loan forgiveness to college graduates who opt for a career in teaching. In fact, that one wins the truth-in-titling award: Its acronym, CLASS ACT, is shorthand for "Canceling Loans to Allow School Systems to Attract Classroom Teachers" Act.

But with everything else on Congress' plate—13 spending bills, legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, and deliberations over a potential war in Iraq—delivering even a bipartisan bill to the president's desk could be difficult. On all of the legislation, the only votes that really count may well be those lawmakers hope to generate in the polling booth.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 22, Issue 2, Page 23

Published in Print: September 11, 2002, as Federal File

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