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N A T I O N A L   C E N T E R   R E P O R T S

The Gains and Losses of 1996 and a Look at the Year Ahead

The Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act

Passing the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act over the concerns raised by child's rights groups and the education establishment is a mammoth challenge, and the fight to enact the PRRA will continue into 1997.

We are meeting with a number of key staffers regarding the 1997 PRRA strategy. Michael Farris has been involved in redrafting certain sections of the act in order to better protect parents.

The Immigration Bill (H.R. 2202)

Our efforts to remove the employment verification systems in the Immigration Bill (H.R. 2202) were partly successful. In late 1995 and early 1996, the Congressional Action Program conducted several lobbying days to make Congress aware of our concerns with the then-existing language in the bill. We also sent out four fax alerts to help Congressman Chabot and Senators Abraham and Feingold get their good amendments passed. Although the amendments were not added, the tracking provisions were significantly diluted.

Originally, the bill called for a national I.D. card for anyone seeking employment. In response to furious objections raised by congressmen and the private sector alike, the I.D. provision was scaled back to mandatory nationwide employment verification system using Social Security numbers and information from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to verify citizenship. Continued opposition brought it down one notch further, and the bill ended up only allowing a voluntary pilot program which would take place in selected border states (California, Texas, Arizona, etc.). Congress will have to reauthorize the program within three years in order for it to be expanded from a limited, voluntary pilot program to a mandatory nationwide verification system.

At the end of the session, the immigration bill came out of conference committee with the reduced tracking provisions intact and was passed and signed by the President.

The CAREERS Act (H.R. 1617)

The controversial H.R. 1617, the CAREERS Act, ran out of time for passage in the 104th Congress and ultimately died. As reported in the September/October 1996 issue of the Court Report, the bill reported out of conference committee in mid-July was totally different from the versions passed by each chamber earlier in the year.

Due to the hard work of Republicans in the conference committee, the last version of the bill would have repealed School-to-Work and other education/labor acts. It also would have consolidated more than 120 existing education and employment assistance programs into three block grants, making abolishing the federal role in education much easier. But because President Clinton had promised to veto H.R. 1617, it was not brought up for a vote. This means School-to-Work lives on.

However, Congressman McKeon's H.R. 1720 was passed by Congress and signed by the President. This bill contained some of the good aspects originally included in the CAREERS legislation, namely privatizing Sallie Mae (student loans) and Connie Rae (college instruction loans), extending the Carl Perkins vocational education loans for one year, cleaning up adult literacy programs and library and museum funds, and repealing various higher education programs. The bill makes some good cuts and significant changes for the better.

In the meantime, we have stayed in close contact with key staffers on the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities and in the Senate. There is a strong likelihood that the final conference committee version of CAREERS may be split into several bills before being reintroduced in 1997. We are strongly advocating that School-to-Work provisions be separated and specifically repealed and that any aspects of the bill dealing with planning or manipulating the job market, or tracking employees and creating databases, be removed.

Abolishing the Federal Role in Education

Our Restoring Local Schools Act (RLSA) received a lot of attention on Capitol Hill this year. Many offices called us to request a copy. We spent many hours lobbying on the Hill trying to secure a sponsor for the RLSA.

Congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL) made overtures to combine our bill into his education reform bill, H.R. 1883. No other Congressmen or Senators, however, had the courage to sponsor the RLSA. In fact, H.R. 1883 died in committee and Congress voted to give the Education Department nearly a billion dollars more than President Clinton requested.

Many Republicans did not push our bill because they did not want to be seen as "anti-education." That same mentality prevails in the new Congress. The reality of the political situation requires us to revise our plan to abolish the federal role in education to a gradual three-step process: 1) first, work to abolish Goals 2000 and School-to-Work; 2) in subsequent years, push to abolish the Federal Department of Education; and 3) long-term, work to abolish the whole federal role in education (about $60 billion).

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child

We have seen little movement on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) since the spring of 1995. The issue is such a political "hot potato" that the Democrats apparently don't want to touch it while in the midst of a Republican-controlled Congress. The child's rights groups, however, continue to stoke the flames to convince President Clinton to pressure the Senate for ratification.

We are encouraging Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Trent Lott (R-MS) to re-introduce S.R. 133, a Senate Resolution signed by 27 Senators in the 104th Congress. This resolution was effective in stopping the U.N. Convention from being brought to the floor of the Senate. Since we are now entering a new session of Congress, the resolution must be re-introduced and may be re-numbered.