This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Rethinking divorce," June 13, 1998

A failing grade

Report cards came in for the federal government-and D.C. gets a big fat "F" for failing to fix the 2000 bug. The computers running many large federal agencies are on a collision course with the millennium unless things change fast. "We must not panic," said Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., as he announced the grades. He said President Clinton must mount the bully pulpit and make the bug a national priority. A House panel flunked the EPA, along with the Departments of Transportation, State, Energy, and Health and Human Services. The worst case is the Agency for International Development, which won't be fully ready until 2019. On the other hand, the State Department is in better shape; its computers will be ready for 2000 by the year 2005. Overall, 13 of the 24 biggest agencies are set to miss the big deadline. The Social Security Administration was the star pupil, earning an "A+" from the subcommittee. But that doesn't necessarily mean Grandma will get her monthly check, because they're issued by the Treasury Department, which earned a "C." The bug comes from faulty computer software, especially the programs that run on musty old mainframes in bureaucratic offices. Cryptic computer codes must be tediously rewritten in time for the millennium. Also, electronic equipment with bad microchips must be hunted down and replaced. The FAA alone says it has 10,000 devices with these problems. Another sector checking heavily for the Y2K bug is banking. Banks are in much better shape, according to the FDIC. Bank examiners reviewed more than 6,000 institutions and found 88 percent are making satisfactory progress at fixing computers. These banks aren't out of danger, but they're making headway. Still, the FDIC threatens action against those who don't make repairs on time. "We consider Year 2000-associated risks to be the No. 1 safety-and-soundness concern for the banking industry," says Nicholas J. Ketcha Jr., director of the FDIC's Division of Supervision.

CEOs mean business

When President Clinton last month vetoed for the second time legislation that would have given publicly funded school vouchers to 2,000 of the poorest children in the nation's capital, some observers wrote that school teachers' unions had once again received a payback for their generous support to Democrats in the 1996 election cycle. Yet if the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so is the price of keeping inner-city kids imprisoned in bad schools: New voucher plans continue to emerge. This fall 150 low-income children in Memphis and 300 in Louisville will attend private schools through vouchers provided by new private voucher programs in those cities. These students join more than 12,000 children nationwide who have received privately funded vouchers since 1991 at a cost of more than $45 million. The biggest plan, San Antonio Edgewood, has already garnered some publicity (see WORLD, May 2). The plan promises to spend $50 million over the next 10 years to offer vouchers worth up to $4,000 for high school to any interested low-income student in the Edgewood district. More than 30 other private voucher programs are based on a model advanced first in Indianapolis in 1991 by the Golden Rule Insurance Co. and now affiliated with the Bentonville, Ark.-based CEO Foundation, which is funded partly by Walmart heir John Walton. Although critics still accuse the programs of skimming able students from the public schools, the CEO-affiliated programs provide scholarships (typically worth $1,000 to $1,500) on a first-come, first-served basis to children eligible for federal free or reduced-price lunches. Demand for the vouchers outstrips available resources: There are more than 45,000 kids nationwide on waiting lists in the communities where voucher programs exist; the list includes large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, and smaller cities like Indianapolis, Little Rock, Albany, Austin, and Milwaukee.

Just say no

Taxpayers in Ohio said no to higher taxes to benefit public schools, rejecting by a lopsided margin of 80 percent to 20 percent a plan supported by the Republican governor and GOP-controlled legislature to raise the sales tax from 5 to 6 percent. Even though voters were promised that half of the increase would go toward reducing property taxes, they were unwilling to give more money to education without accountability. The Ohio affiliate of the National Education Association supported the measure, but the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO opposed it. Ohio voters also said no-but by a smaller margin-to plans to fund low-interest loans for school construction, a measure similar to that proposed by President Clinton as part of his supposedly popular federal education agenda. Meanwhile, the Buckeye Institute, a think tank based in Dayton, Ohio, has proposed what The Wall Street Journal called "child-centered" education. Instead of money going from the state to school districts, $4,000 in "opportunity grants" would follow students to whatever school, public or private, their parents choose.

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