A massive education reform bill, demanding new accountability for low-performing public schools while offering assistance for the US's neediest students, was set for final passage in the Senate. After months of intense bipartisan negotiations, the $26.5 billion measure known as the "No Child Left Behind" bill had broad support in both parties and was expected to pass easily. The House approved it overwhelmingly last week.

Fire crews in New York tended a fierce five- alarm blaze in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the nation's largest church edifice. Smoke filled the building (r.) and was billowing out of the massive front doors of the Episcopal sanctuary, which has been under construction for more than a century. The early-morning fire was largely contained in the main part of the cathedral, officials said, but smoke and water damage was expected to be heavy. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

A federal court OK'd a $6.8 million settlement of a discrimination lawsuit involving Wal-Mart Stores and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency had accused the retail giant of using - between 1994 and 1998 - a pre-employment questionnaire that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by seeking too much information about an applicant's physical limitations. Under its consent decree, signed in Sacramento, Calif., Wal-Mart will pay $3.8 million for workers who were turned down and $3 million to a fund for workers yet to be identified.

Ford Motor Co. reached a preliminary $10.5 million settlement with plaintiffs in two age and gender class-action lawsuits. Current and former employees challenged the auto-maker's management evaluation system, which, they alleged, was unfairly biased against older, white males. Under the deal, Ford would not have to admit wrongdoing.

The Energy Department was sued by the state of Nevada, in its latest salvo in an ongoing battle over burying the nation's radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The suit asks the federal appeals court in Washington to stop the project before Energy Secretary Abraham decides whether to recommend Yucca Mountain as a suitable location.

Housing construction jumped 8.2 percent last month to its highest level since January, the Commerce Department reported. Low mortgage rates were cited as the key reason for the increase.

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