News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Report Gauges Effect Of After-School Plan

About 550,000 fewer children would have access to after-school programs under President Bush's budget request for fiscal 2004, an advocacy group says.

A report from the Washington-based Afterschool Alliance, released March 13, analyzes the effect on every state of the president's proposal to cut by 40 percent the $1 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Mr. Bush requested $600 million for the program in fiscal 2004.

The alliance provides data assuming three different levels of funding: the president's $600 million request, "flat" funding of $1 billion, and the $1.75 billion figure Congress authorized for 2004 in the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001. The group's projections are based on an estimate from the Department of Education of $700 per student for a typical 21st Century grant program.

The report also says that demand for the grants far outpaces supply. Among the 31 states reporting 2002 grant data, 75 percent of applicants' requests were denied. The largest gap was in Minnesota, where available funds covered just 8 percent of applicants.

To justify its $400 million proposed cut, the Education Department's fiscal 2004 budget summary cited a recent evaluation showing that programs funded under the initiative "are not providing substantial academic content and do not appear to have a positive impact on student behavior." ("Bush Proposes Ed. Funding Hike—Maybe," Feb. 12, 2003.)

—Erik W. Robelen

USDA Sets Deadline For 'Irradiation' Comments

The Department of Agriculture says public comments on how to use irradiated food in the national school lunch program should be submitted by April 11.

The idea of serving irradiated meat in school cafeterias has been in the works for years, but has been opposed by some parents and consumer groups. The federal government approved the sale of irradiated meat in 1999, but barred using it in the school lunch program.

A clause in the federal farm bill passed last year lifted that prohibition and, since then, the USDA has been moving toward making irradiated meat available for the lunch program. The $7 billion program serves more than 27 million children free or reduced-priced meals every school day.

Irradiated food has been deemed safe by the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association. According to information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the process uses ionizing radiation to kill bacteria and "does not harm the nutritional value of food, nor does it make the food unsafe to eat."

The USDA has been collecting public comments on the idea since November.

—Michelle R. Davis

Rep. Miller Proposes Student-Loan Tax Breaks

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has introduced legislation that would expand loan-forgiveness programs for college graduates receiving federal student aid who entered teaching or certain other professions.

George Miller

The measure would provide graduates entering the fields of teaching, child care, nursing, and child welfare with up to $17,500 in total loan forgiveness, disbursed over a five-year period. The government would cover the portion of the loans to be forgiven, under the proposal, HB 1306, which applies only to federal financial aid.

Highly qualified instructors, as defined by federal law, teaching in mathematics, science, bilingual education, and special education in low-income areas would be eligible.

The Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2004 budget includes a plan to allow $17,500 in loan forgiveness for graduates who agree to teach in low-income communities in math, science, and special education. Current law allows teachers in those subject areas to receive up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness.

As with the current loan-forgiveness law, the administration proposal is discretionary, meaning Congress could decide not to finance the program during a lean budget year. Rep. Miller's program would make that funding mandatory, meaning students would be guaranteed to receive the breaks.

Mr. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, also introduced a second bill, HB 1304, that would change the current federal income-tax deduction for interest paid on student loans to a tax credit.

He contends that a borrower with an income of $20,000 could triple tax savings, to $347, during the first year of repayment.

Kate Rube, a spokeswoman for the higher education project of the State Public Interest Research Groups, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, said the organization supported the tax proposal.

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 22, Issue 28, Page 21

Published in Print: March 26, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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Correction: An item in this section ("Rep. Miller Proposes Student-Loan Tax Breaks") incorrectly stated that a federal program offering student-loan forgiveness to certain new teachers is subject to discretionary funding from Congress. Instead, the funding for the loan-forgiveness program is mandatory, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Under a pending proposal backed by the Bush administration to expand the forgiveness amount for teachers in mathematics, science, and special education, that funding would remain mandatory, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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