News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Plan Would Overturn Records-Privacy Ruling

A bill recently introduced in the House would authorize private lawsuits against school districts and other educational institutions over unauthorized disclosures of educational records.

The legislation, introduced April 29 by Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., would essentially overturn a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which requires schools and colleges receiving federal money to protect the privacy of student records, cannot be enforced through private lawsuits. The high court's 7-2 ruling in Gonzaga University v. Doe left the federal Department of Education as the sole arbiter of complaints of student-privacy violations.

The bill offered by Rep. Andrews would authorize private suits for damages by any parent, student, or "person aggrieved" by an unauthorized disclosure of student records. The bill, which would also authorize triple damages in such suits, was referred to the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

—Mark Walsh

12 Senators Urge Paige To Retain Clearinghouses

A dozen senators have signed a letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige that asks him to keep in place the structure of the world's largest educational database system.

The Department of Education is considering an overhaul of the Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC, system that could put a single contractor in charge of the 37-year- old network of clearinghouses. That might mean the end of the 16 existing clearinghouses now devoted to specific subject areas.

Existing contracts with the clearinghouses expire Dec. 31. The goal of the overhaul is to modernize and streamline ERIC and save money, department officials say.

Signed by 11 Democrats and Independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont, the senators' May 1 letter strongly urges the department to retain ERIC's existing structure. The letter says the possibility of some proposed cuts would be a deterrent to researchers, would narrow educational resources, and make it more difficult to develop better learning techniques.

—Michelle R. Davis

States Are Cutting Aid For Child Care, GAO Says

Since January 2001, 23 states have changed their child-care-subsidy guidelines, making it harder for low-income parents to receive assistance, according to a General Accounting Office report released last week.

While the GAO, Congress' investigative arm, was not able to determine how many children have been affected by the tightening eligibility rules, the report appears to confirm what many child-care advocates have been saying: Because of declining revenue, states are cutting aid for child care and other programs serving young children.

The study, however, also found that over the same time period, nine states have made it easier to apply for and receive child- care help. Three states have made a mix of changes.

Democrats in Congress have made child-care spending a major issue in the debate over the reauthorization of the 1996 federal welfare law. They are asking for as much as $11 billion more for that purpose over the next five years.

The House approved legislation in February that would increase Child Care and Development Block Grant appropriations by at least $1 billion over five years. But President Bush, in his proposed budget for fiscal 2004, recommended keeping annual funding at its current level of $4.8 billion.

—Linda Jacobson

Bennett Pledges To Cease Gambling

Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, responding to published reports indicating he has lost as much as $8 million over the past decade indulging in a heretofore unpublicized taste for high-stakes gambling, vowed last week to give up the pastime.

William J. Bennett

Mr. Bennett, who led the Department of Education from 1985 to 1988 under President Reagan, has become well-known for his advocacy of higher moral standards in public and private life and his authorship of The Book of Virtues. He came under withering criticism after Newsweek and The Washington Monthly divulged his history of gambling.

Stories first published in the online editions of the magazines said Mr. Bennett had taken numerous excursions to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., and had sometimes lost six-figure amounts on slot machines and video poker.

Mr. Bennett, the chairman of K12 Inc., an online curriculum provider, was quoted as saying he had never bet "the milk money" and had more or less broken even on his gambling over the years. As the outcry lingered, he said, according to published accounts, that "this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over."

—Ben Wear

Vol. 22, Issue 36, Page 24

Published in Print: May 14, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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