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States Seek Guidance on Title I, Block Grants

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Washington--State and local educators told a House education subcommittee last week that they needed more guidance from the Reagan Administration on how to implement the new Education Consolidation and Improvement Act (ecia) of 1981. They also expressed concern over the impact of proposed budget cuts on local school systems.

In addition, a representative of a Presidentially appointed advisory commission on the Title I program for disadvantaged children told the committee that as many as 2.3 million children might be denied services under the Administration's latest budget proposal.

The new law, which takes effect next October, reduces the monitoring and accountability requirements of the old Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and consolidates some 30 separate programs into a single block grant for each state.

The new budget proposals would reduce Title I funds from a $3.1 billion program in fiscal year 1981 to $2.5 billion in fiscal year 1982 for the new Chapter I (which replaces Title I) of ecia Those funds become available to school districts in the 1982-83 school year. The grant programs that are scheduled to be consolidated received a total of $610 million in 1981. The new law sets a spending ceiling of $589 million for the new block grants (Chapter II), which combines those programs. President Ronald Reagan has requested only $518 million for the block-grant programs.

The education officials, however, appeared to be as concerned about the administrative impact of the new law as they are about funding reductions. "We are afraid that too little regulation may be almost as bad as too much," said Steve Sauls, the Washington representative of the Florida Department of Education. "Without reasonable guidance written into the regulations, many of us may end up in court justifying our actions after the fact."

The educators praised the intent of ecia because it reduces administrative paperwork. But they said that they were worried about differences that might arise between state and local education agencies over administration of the new law. And they added that they were confused over certain sections of the law.

Thomas C. Rosica, the executive director of federal programs for the School District of Philadelphia, said he feared the law may replace "a federal bureaucracy with a state bureaucracy and federal regulations with state regulations."

Mr. Rosica also said that he was "deeply concerned over the flexibility given to states in the distribution of Chapter II block grant monies." He added, "Historically, this nation's major urban communities have had to fight for their fair share of funding from the states." The consolidation of programs into a block grant, he said, would "mean losing millions of dollars that are vitally needed by the school district."

A representative of a state education agency, however, urged that greater authority be given state governments in monitoring and evaluating the programs administered by local school districts.

James W. Miller, director of the division of federal assistance of the Ohio Department of Education, suggested that one section of the new law--which affects local school-districts' participation in the Chapter I program--be changed to allow states to adopt "rules or guidelines." Mr. Miller said that the states "must have the option to develop guidelines" to ensure the quality of local programs.

The educators raised various questions about the new law. These included how much authority the states have to monitor and evaluate programs, and whether provisions dropped from the old law--such as mandatory parent advisory councils and limits on non-instructional duties of Title I teachers--would be allowed to continue under the new law.

Mr. Miller complained, "The Education Department officials are themselves unclear about the law's intent." He added, "Our concern is that four or five years from now we're going to be subjected to some audit telling us what we did wrong."

The possible damage to children resulting from proposed budget cuts was raised by M. Hayes Mizell, chairman of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children. The group is scheduled to disband when the new law takes effect next year.

Mr. Mizell estimated that 2.3 million children--more than one-third of all children served by the program--would be denied such services as supplementary instruction in mathematics and reading as a result of the proposed cuts, and that the equivalent of close to 73,000 full-time staff positions would be lost. He also charged that administrative changes in the law meant that "the federal bureaucracy has abandoned its responsiblity to assure that the law is effectively implemented."

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