Federal News Roundup
Under criticism and ridicule from Democratic members of Congress, the press, advocacy groups, and even stand-up comedians, the Reagan Administration has withdrawn its proposal for changing meal patterns and reducing nutritional requirements for the school-lunch program.
The withdrawal, which surprised even officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (usda), was announced on Sept. 25 by David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Stockman said the proposed guidelines were the result of a "bureaucratic goof," and said that the agency had not only egg, but ketchup on its face.
In a separate statement, Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block said that he and President Reagan agreed that the guidelines should be reconsidered "due to adverse public reaction."
Not everyone was opposed to the proposed changes. In Congressional hearings last month, food-service directors from several districts said they supported many of the changes.
Although the proposal had been cleared by the requisite officials, it appears that top Administration officials such as Mr. Stockman had not personally been alerted to the proposal.
Withdrawing the proposed changes does not eliminate the need for quick cost-cutting action by the Agriculture Department; the Administration did not restore the $1.5 billion already cut from the school-lunch budget. Hence, usda still must propose some means to reduce costs for districts.
At this point, agency officials are not sure exactly what the next step will be. Technically, they must effect budget cuts within 90 days of the signing of the budget-reconciliation bill. That leaves them six weeks to develop a new proposal, unless the time requirements are waived or eliminated.
Two Presidential nominations to key Education Department posts ran into trouble last week in the Senate.
In response to a telephone poll of the members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, committee sources say, some Senators objected to the nominations of Gary L. Jones, for deputy undersecretary for planning and budget, and Jean Tufts, for assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.
A third nominee, Edward Curran, has yet to win approval to be Director of the National Institute of Education but his nomination has not been controversial, according to committee sources. At this point, none of the nominations has been rejected by thers; they have simply been held for further study.
The Senate committee's poll, which was still in progress late last week, followed confirmation hearings on Sept. 22 for the three nominees.
Some Senators believe Mr. Jones may have a conflict of interest because of his membership on the Fairfax County, Va., school board while holding a position in the Education Department. The leading critic is Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the ranking minority member of the full committee. Mr. Jones has denied any conflicts, and the committee chairman, Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, agrees with him.
The objections to the Tufts nomination come largely from Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., Republican of Connecticut. He has expressed doubts about Ms. Tufts' commitment to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
Mr. Jones and Ms. Tufts have been with the Education Department, in ''acting" capacities, since last spring. Mr. Curran is now associate director of the office of presidential personnel.
The National Advisory Council on Vocational Education, which was scheduled for elimination in 1983 by the Education Department, has won support from the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, Robert M. Worthington.
The council's abolition was included in a preliminary department plan tonize federal vocational-education efforts next year, when the $681-million program's current authorizing legislation expires.
The draft proposal included vocational-education block grants to states and manpower-training grants to aid President Reagan's "economic revitalization" goals (see Education Week, Sept. 14).
Mr. Worthington told members of the national advisory council meeting in Washington that, after circulating the proposal among interested groups, the department received numerous comments in support of the council. As a result, Mr. Worthington said he would recommend that the advisory council be included in the proposal.
Shirley M. Hufstedler, the first U.S. secretary of education, has accused President Ronald Reagan of creating "a tragedy for American education."
"The federal role in education is more important now than it has ever been, because states and local school systems cannot undertake to serve the needs of students without help," Ms. Hufstedler said in an interview from her Los Angeles law office.
"Neither the states, the school systems, nor the federal government has the authority, power, or resources to do it alone," she said.
Ms. Hufstedler, who headed the department under President Jimmy Carter, said "the attempt to apply a cost-benefit ratio to education programs is exceedingly misleading. You might save a few dollars today by cutting education aid, but the cost to the future is huge."
In what insiders describe as "a show of force in Reagan's back yard," the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) made a successful bid to reopen its nine-year-old school-desegregation suit in Prince George's County, Md.
The demographic makeup of the Washington suburb has changed dramatically since 1973, when court-ordered busing began there. Half the district's 116,000 students now are black, compared to 23 percent eight years ago.
Because the school board did not adjust student assignments as the population changed, the naacp argued, the schools are as segregated today as they were before the suit was filed in 1972. Many schools are now 80 percent black, and some are less than 10 percent black.
U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman has agreed to hear the case in May.