Nutrition advocacy groups had little comment about the paperwork review for the school lunch program, but were concerned that it was part of a general trend towards reducing federal oversight of the program at the expense of children's health.
The lengthy review and regulatory reform process ensures that rule changes that are proposed will not take effect for many months.
Before a new or modified regulation takes effect, agencies have to solicit public comment through the federal Register, win approval of the Office of Management and Budget, and conduct detailed internal analyses. And for the Education Department regulations slated for review--Title IX and Section 504--Federal law requires Congressional review and gives Congress veto power.
In addition, public-interest groups--some of them affiliated with Ralph Nader--are contemplating filing suit against the Reagan Administration's regulatory review process.
Even if the deregulation moves survive all these potential obstacles, they are likely to become targets of powerful lobbying groups which have traditionally influenced Congress and federal agencies. The regulatory relief could also be sidetracked by a variety of lawsuits.
Under guidelines established by a Presidential executive order issued in February, final authority for approving new or altered regulations shifted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which also serves as the staff of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief. Under the procedures of the President's regulatory review task force, each agency conducts an internal review and then submits proposed changes to OMB for approval.
More Lawsuits Predicted
A number of advocacy groups believe that a regulatory roll-back could lead to an increase in private lawsuits and a retrenchment of local school funding commitments to girls' athletics and the handicapped.
Interpretations of the impact of the new regulatory review process and the possible reforms that could result vary widely.
"Just because a regulation is targeted for review doesn't mean it's on a hit list," says Tom Anderson, the Education Department lawyer heading up the agency's regulatory review program. But on handicapped regulations, he says, "We see that too high a percentage of money is being spent on the administration of programs for the handicapped, and not enough for actual conduct of the programs. We think there are ways to accomplish the objectives of these programs without hurting the kids--while reducing emphasis on technical compliance and paperwork."
School officials share the Administration view that a program's mission--whether girls' athletics or protecting the handicapped--can be accomplished with less regulation. And education lobbyists are also concerned about the lack of federal funds to implement rules mandating equal access to education for handicapped students.
Mandates Without Funding Criticized
"Our view is that if the federal government is going to have stringent requirements it should also fund them," says Charlotte Friedman of the American Association of School Administrators.
A regulatory roll-back affecting Section 504 could significantly weaken federal protection for the handicapped, especially if 94-142--the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975--which the Reagan Administration had sought to repeal--is also weakened.
An Education Department source speculates that if P.L. 94-142 remains intact, a regulatory roll-back of Section 504 would only have a major impact on access requirements for facilities, which aren't spelled out in detail in P.L. 94-142. Because P.L. 94-142 is generally such a detailed law, any efforts to weaken the regulations implementing that law or Section 504 will still preserve most legal requirements for educating the handicapped. But many other handicapped rights would be lost.
And despite educators' complaints about the high costs of compliance, handicapped advocates believe Section 504 is crucial. "Section 504 is at the core of the whole rights of the disabled," says Fred Weintraub, assistant executive director for the Council for Exceptional Children. "More handicapped kids are going into higher education and careers as a result of it."
"There are more than four million children being served now that weren't being served before," according to Reese Robrahn, executive director of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.
Sending a Signal
Many states also have laws mandating education for the handicapped, based on landmark court decisions, but Mr. Robrahn charges that the Reagan initiatives on the handicapped are sending a signal to the states that could lead to repeal of state laws.
Says one Education Department official: "It's not too difficult to see that if federal protections are withdrawn, many school districts won't be spending as much on the handicapped."
The gains made in girls' athletics in secondary schools won't be as significantly threatened by regulatory roll-backs, according to some observers.
The Bush review is focusing now only on the 1979 interpretation of Title IX regulations on sex discrimination as they apply to varsity collegiate athletics. The regulations themselves are not being studied yet, but these controversial interpretations have shaped Education Department enforcement of the those regulations, which also cover primary and secondary schools.
Title IX has played a major role in increasing girls' participation in interscholastic sports. Participation jumped from nearly 300,000 in 1970 to two million in 1980. The bedrock of political support for girls athletics programs that has built up over the years is unlikely to be eroded quickly even in the face of deregulation.
In Wisconsin, for example, Annette Maynard, gender equity coordinator for the Milwaukee public schools, told UPI that the schools would not be affected by changes in Title IX.
Education Department officials familiar with the regulations differ among themselves on the possible impact of a weakening of Title IX regulations. One source said, "If there's no Federal presence, things would slide back before Title IX."
Looking at School-Lunch Paperwork
The third rule targeted for review last week is the paperwork requirement for the school lunch program. The program serves 26 million students, of whom 11.7 million receive free or reduced price meals. Under the new Reagan proposed budget cuts, $1.1 billion was cut from the program for the next fiscal year.
School officials complain that too many unnecessary details are requested of them under the program, and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials agree.
Adds Scott Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School Principals: "It turns principals into petty bureaucrats. We've had to become cafeteria administrators."
The Regulatory Relief Task Force staff estimated last week that school lunch paperwork adds 46 million man-hours to the nation's schools. The Agriculture Department is already considering proposals to increase flexibility for local administrators and reduce nutritional requirements for the lunch program. That is a step nutrition advocacy groups view with alarm.
Vol. 01, Issue 01