- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

An agreement between House and Senate negotiators will ensure access to public-school facilities for Boy Scout troops in spite of their policy against homosexual scout masters.
The deal reached late Tuesday night on President Bush's education proposal includes language that denies funds to state agencies or local school districts that discriminate against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
The language also protects other youth groups classified as "patriotic societies."
"It is my hope that we will continue to make bipartisan progress in working out a real education bill that builds on the success of allowing state innovation, ensuring the rights of parents to direct their children's education, protecting the ability of children to pray in schools, and prohibiting discrimination against Boy Scouts," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
On the overall education bill, conservatives won almost every battle on social issues, but are expected to make concessions when Democrats ask for increased spending.
"There is a serious desire not to let social policy issues sidetrack us from finishing the bill," said one Senate Democrat leadership aide.
The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed on June 28, 2000, the BSA's standing as a private organization with the right to set its own leadership standards.
However, homosexual rights activists who disagree with the Boy Scouts' moral views have sought to block the BSA from meeting in public schools or distributing recruitment information at public schools.
"The Boy Scouts of America aims to allow youth to live and to learn as children and enjoy Scouting without immersing them in the politics of the day," said the scout's position paper on school access.
Just as other student or community groups are permitted access to public-school facilities, the BSA deserves the same access, the statement said.
As of June, at least 359 school districts in 10 states have taken action against the BSA because of the ban, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.
House and Senate leaders said yesterday they expect the overall education bill, which has passed the House and Senate, to see final passage before Congress adjourns this year.
"We can get it done," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
After weeks of wrangling, House and Senate negotiators late Tuesday night resolved several key differences on the elementary and secondary education bill, which funds education for the next 10 years at $180 billion.
"We will finish this process soon, and send the president a bill he can sign into law before the end of the year," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House-Senate education panel.
Key negotiators met yesterday and will meet again today to discuss outstanding issues including school discipline, how to measure yearly progress, and funding for disabled students.
"We've got to find a way to ensure that all these reforms are going to be funded, and if we can do that, we've got a deal," Mr. Daschle said.
The legislation also withholds federal funding from public schools that don't allow prayer; it also gives military recruiters the same access to pupils, their addresses and phone numbers that private employers and colleges enjoy.
The Bush proposal allows public schools to teach about religion, the Bible or other scripture, the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible as literature and the role of religion in the history of the United States, but preserves the bar on providing religious instruction.
Schools can also teach about religious holidays but cannot observe them. Schools may also teach students about religious influences on art, music and literature.
The legislation merges the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Gun-Free Schools acts, but exempts home schoolers from provisions outlawing guns near or in schools.
Those amendments were added without objection. However, difficulties arose over a proposal by Mr. Boehner to block federal funding for hate-crime prevention classes if the curriculum would "discriminate against, denigrate, or otherwise undermine the religious or moral beliefs" of students and parents.
Conservatives are concerned that the classes encourage acceptance of homosexuality.
Mr. Boehner and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, agreed to continue negotiations over how best to protect religious beliefs while teaching about hate crimes.
The final bill must be approved by both the House and Senate.
Negotiators said they hoped to send the huge education bill to Mr. Bush by the end of the year possibly by next month before Congress begins its year-end break.
"My sense is that we're going to be here until Thanksgiving," Mr. Kennedy said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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