New Title I Rules Due By January
Susan G. Foster
Those concerned about the education of disadvantaged children are anxiously monitoring the changes being made this year in Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Representatives of organizations that favor a prominent federal role in education, as well as state administrators to whom more responsibility for education was passed this year, are concerned that new Title I legislation could reduce the gains made in the past 16 years of federal leadership in meeting the educational needs of poor children.
Some critics of the changes argue at the new Title I law, which Congress passed early this summer, is "ambiguous," "vague," and is "lacking in the size, scope and quality" of the current law.
The $3.1-billion Title I program--the largest federal education program--has grown more specific and prescriptive through amendments passed since it began in 1965. Until it was radically altered and deregulated this year, Title I was governed by 54 pages of legislation.
Congress, in response to complaints that Title I was too intrusive and time-consuming to administer, simplified the law. Legislators shortened the governing legislation to only six pages, through passage of e Education Consolidation and Improvement Act (ecia), which became law Aug. 13.
The new law is designed to reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, while providing states with financial assistance to meet the special needs of educationally deprived children. It is identical to current law in the way it distributes funds to states and counties, but it is much less specific in monitoring and accountability requirements.
The law also changes the official name of Title I. Although most educators and legislators continue to refer to the program by its 16-year-old name, the federal education program for disadvantaged students is now officially known as
"Chapter I of ecia"
The Education Department, aware of the confusion Congress created, has established a consolidation task force to study problems arising from the new law, and to issue new regulations.
William Cheatham, deputy assistant secretary for compensatory education, said last week that preliminary regulations would be issued by January 1982.
But for now, the issue of who will have the authority to make rules and to administer the programs--states, local school systems, or the federal government--is still a question.
Jack W. Hanson, president of the National Association of State Coordinators of Title I, said it is important for states to know what the Administration expects of them under the new law, which he calls a "stripped-down" version of the current law.
The states need to receive "working papers" from the Education Department, covering fiscal reports and program management, Mr. Hanson said. He added that "in order to plan, we need more direction. We're not opposed to the reduction of the law, but we want to know what will be required."
Mr. Hanson said his organization would like to see a technical amendment added to the new law that would give the states the power to make necessary rules for administering the program.
Bette Hamilton, education-program director of the Children's Defense Fund, a legal defense and lobbying group that favors large-scale federal funding of education programs, said her organization would prefer more stringent federal regulation of state practices, such as those the previous Title I law contained. Without oversight of state action, she said, there is no assurance that states have lived up to the federal government's intent.
Mrs. Hamilton predicted that some states will be uncomfortable with the new arrangement. She said the new law might create an "identity crisis" for some of the state agencies. "You've got to realize the state bureaus [of education] grew up with the current law," she said.
"What we'll have is 50 different [state] policies under Chapter I," she added. States such as New York have strong state-mandated compensatory education programs in addition to the federal program, while others have only minimal statutes governing education of the disadvantaged, she said.
Congress's changes represent a philosophical as well as a programmatic shift for Title I, experts agree. Since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act(esea) in 1965, subsequent federal laws have mandated a large-scale federal involvement in educating the nation's disadvantaged children, who proponents of the program believe have traditionally under-served by state and local programs.
Amendments to esea required the involvement of parents of disadvantaged children in such programs; set up guidelines for program accountability; mandated procedures for federal monitoring; and established a national Title I advisory council.
Under the new law, which responds to the Reagan Administration's proposal for less federal entanglement in state and local administration of education programs, parental involvement is not mandatory; provisions for program accountability and federal monitoring are to be rewritten; and the national advisory council has been abolished.
Elimination of such provisions has resulted in criticism that the new legislation will undermine the educational-achievement gains disadvantaged children have made.
Alice Baum, executive director of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, which was eliminated by the ecia, said she believes that weakened laws, diluted federal participation, and smaller federal appropriations will only serve to undermine the intent of the program.
Mrs. Baum said the new law is "very loose, ambiguous, and with very few monitoring and federal-enforcement provisions."
What is forgotten, adds Mrs. Hamilton, "is that children are the consumers of these laws, not the states and not the agencies."