WASHINGTON (AP) _ Kathy Strehl has juggled part-time college classes with raising three boys since her husband, a St. Louis police detective, was killed on the job in 1993.

While various government programs help pay for health insurance and other family expenses, money is tight as Strehl pays tuition toward a communications degree. She wants her sons _ ages 7, 9 and 15 _ to go to college as well, but doesn't know how she'll pay for it.

The Strehls are among 4,100 families nationwide not covered by laws providing federal funds to pay college tuitions for spouses and children of officers killed in the line of duty. A bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week would change that.

``The men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our communities deserve our unwavering support, as do their families,'' said Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., the bill's sponsor.

Strehl's husband, Stephen, was detached to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration when he died in a helicopter accident. Strehl quit her job as an insurance claims adjuster to stay home full time and raise the boys, but knew she eventually would need to continue her education.

``I always wanted to go to college. There's no way I (could get) to the management level without it,'' Strehl said.

Under current law, only children and spouses of federal law enforcement officers killed after 1992 and state and local officers killed after 1997 get federal help with tuition.

Ashcroft's bill would move back the date to 1978 for both groups. The benefit would be up to $485 per month for full-time students for as many as 45 months at any private or public college. Children up to age 27 and spouses of any age would be eligible.

The bill, backed by associations of federal law enforcement officers and border patrol associations, would cost an estimated $124 million over its lifetime, according to the Justice Department.

About half the states provide help with tuition for officers' survivors, but benefits vary widely, according to Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, a national group based in Camdenton, Mo.

In Missouri, where Strehl still lives, benefits for spouses are limited to 12 credit hours at an instate public institution.