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Educational costs will rise by nearly 10 percent this academic year, while enrollments decline by approximately 1.5 percent, according to preliminary estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Schools and colleges--public and private--will spend approximately $198.3 billion on education this academic year, up from approximately $181 billion last year, according to the agency's back-to-school forecast. The largest share, nearly $113 billion, will be spent by public elementary and secondary schools.

As in each of the past few years, high-school enrollments are shrinking faster than are enrollments for kindergarten through grade 8. Elementary-school enrollments, down from 31.4 million last year to 31 million this year, are expected to begin increasing in the mid-1980's. High-school enrollments, the agency says, will continue to decline throughout the decade.

According to the forecast, some 3.3 million people will be employed as teachers--more than 2.4 million of them in elementary and secondary schools--and another 300,000 in administrative and other instructional positions.

The agency estimates that public elementary and secondary schools will employ 23,000 fewer teachers than they did last year--a smaller reduction in force than teachers' organizations had predicted. The number of instructors in private schools and in institutions of higher education was expected to hold steady.

The federal government will not require seat belts or higher seat backs on school buses, at least for the time being.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has denied a petition filed by the Physicians for Automotive Safety to change the federal standards. The group had requested that the seat belts be required and that the minimum height for seat backs be changed from 24 inches to 28 inches.

In rejecting the petition, the federal agency cited claims that higher seat backs would prevent drivers from spotting unruly students. Some experts also believe that seat belts can harm young children, who may be better protected by thick padding on seats.

The ruling does not prevent states or districts from setting more stringent standards for seat belts and backs.

More than $200,000 in college scholarships will be awarded this fall to 200 high-school seniors through the Century III Leaders program co-sponsored by the Shell Oil Company and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Applications for the scholarship competition, which are available through school principals' offices, must be filed by Oct. 16. The program, according to its sponsors, is intended to foster creativity among future decision-makers.

Students seeking the scholarships, which range from $500 to $10,000 each, are nominated at their high schools on the basis of their leadership abilities, community involvement, and awareness of current events. Nominees advance to state competitions, where they are required to compose a brief presentation on the solution to a need or challenge the nation is likely to face in the future.

In each state and the District of Columbia, two finalists are awarded $1,500 scholarships, and two alternates receive $500 scholarships. The 102 state finalists also win an all-expense-paid trip to Williamsburg, Va., to attend a national Century III Leaders conference.

A national champion is selected from the group of state finalists and is awarded a $10,000 scholarship at the conference. Nine semi-finalists earn an additional $500 gift.

Additional information is available from Century III Leaders, Box 1262, Arlington, VA 22210.

The South cannot let federal budget cuts lead to the demise of badly needed education, health, and economic programs, North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., told state officials attending a Southern Growth Policies Board workshop last week in Raleigh.

"For all the progress we have made, we are still the poorest region in the country," said Governor Hunt, chairman of the Education Commission of the States and education spokesman for the nation's governors.

The region's high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and poor health make it difficult for states to raise taxes to offset the loss of federal funds, he said.

Nevertheless, Governor Hunt maintained, the programs must go on if the region is to overcome its problems. "If the federal government cuts off funds, we've got to find them somehow," he said. "We've got to keep going and make our own efforts."

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