Federal News Roundup
U.S. Asks Court to Stop Busing Plans in Washington Cities
For 27 years, school boards have tangled with the federal government over school desegregation. Now, three Washington school boards find themselves in the same position--but with the traditional sides switched.
The Department of Justice last week reversed its earlier position and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the results of a 1978 Washington referendum prohibiting school districts from reassigning students for desegregation. The Seattle, Pasco, and Tacoma systems are among the few in the nation with locally initiated busing plans.
"It is kind of surprising that the Justice Department has switched directions, but we don't expect it to change anything," said Donald Steele, superintendent of the Seattle schools. Some 7,000 of Seattle's 47,000 students are bused for racial balance to schools outside their neighborhoods, and another 7,000 have transferred voluntarily.
Lower federal courts, at the urging of the three school boards and the Justice Department, have found the anti-busing law unconstitutional, on grounds that it allows busing for purposes other than improving racial balance.
If the Supreme Court upholds the law, the Seattle board will face "the more classic kind of desegregation litigation other cities have faced," said Michael Hoge, lawyer for the district.
Three civil-rights groups, which support the city's voluntary plan, already have filed suit asking for court-ordered desegregation in case the anti-busing law is upheld, he said.
"Seattle dealt with this problem before it became irretrievable," Mr. Hoge said. "We've stabilized, there's more community acceptance, and we're able to concentrate on achievement. The plan responds to the changing conditions in the community; that's one of the beauties of a local plan. We have a stability and a predictability here that school districts under court order do not enjoy."
The referendum passed by a two-to-one margin statewide, but, Mr. Hoge noted, it passed by a much narrower margin in Seattle and lost in neighborhoods that are affected by the busing plan--evidence, he said, that desegregation is supported by those who have experience with it.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide in late October whether it will hear the case.
The Justice Department also has reversed its position on the right of states to deny a free public education to children of illegal aliens.
In a brief filed in a Texas case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justice Department contends that the federal government has no legal interest in the education of illegal-alien children. The issue affects "the state of Texas and the school districts, not the United States," the brief says.
This is contrary to the position the government took last year. In lower-court briefs filed in the same case, the department had contended that a 1975 Texas law permitting school districts to charge tuition for the children of illegal aliens violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Federal district and appellate courts agreed, and struck down the Texas statute on those grounds.
Between 10,000 and 11,000 illegal aliens attended Texas public schools free of charge last year, according to the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. This was made possible when Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., suspended the Texas law pending appeal of the lower-court rulings. The Supreme Court has now been asked to rule on the merits of the case.
The Justice Department's new position seems to indicate some confusion about the rights of illegal aliens. The brief asserts that aliens do have some legal rights--but it does not say whether a free public education is one of them.
Some of the Education Department's $15.9 million worth of printed and audio-visual materials might be eliminated next year, according to the department's director of editorial services, John Roberts.
Mr. Roberts said his office recently cut 5 percent of its expenses for materials, but that the Office of Management and Budget has requested an unspecified amount of further cuts.
So far, the Education Department has eliminated several in-house newsletters, a brochure listing federal publications concerning the handicapped, a publication listing National Institute of Education projects in progress, and a newsletter on developing dissemination proposals.
Mr. Roberts said an editorial review board, made up of staff members of the department's Office of Public Affairs, would decide later this month on the additional areas to be cut. He said the department has no plans to cut back the $334,000 it spent last year on American Education, its glossy, full-color monthly magazine.