Federal News Roundup
In keeping with budget cuts imposed this summer by Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week issued final regulations covering several aspects of federally sponsored school-meal programs.
On Sept. 16, the agency released regulations that tighten eligibility for the "severe-need" category of the school-breakfast program.
The severe-need category, established in 1979 to encourage participation in the breakfast program, provides an extra reimbursement of up to 10 cents per meal for schools with high concentrations of low-income students, as measured by the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
Under the new standards, no school that serves fewer than 40 percent free or reduced-price lunches may be placed in the severe-need category. Up to now, states were free to set their own guidelines; a school that served, for example, 30 percent free and reduced-price lunches could also receive the extra money in some states.
A grace period is granted to schools falling below the 40-percent mark in states where a school-breakfast program is required by law. In such states, schools will remain eligible until July 1, 1983, if the state legislature meets annually; in states where the legislature meets every two years, the schools will remain eligible until July 1, 1984.
The change will save usda some $10 million, according to the department's estimates.
Later in the week, usda issued its final version of a rule covering the amount of money the federal government gives states for meals served in the national school-meal programs. The amount paid by the federal government no longer must equal the amount paid in 1972.
The same rule eliminated the requirement that school officials estimate and report each October and March the number of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Also, the rule increased the maximum price districts may charge students who receive reduced-price meals. The maximum charge for a reduced-price lunch was raised from 20 to 40 cents, and the top price for a reduced-cost breakfast was raised from 10 to 30 cents.
Some of the revisions--for example, the elimination of the semiannual reports--will give state and local officials more flexibility. The change in the "severe need" category, however, removes states' discretion to set their own eligibility guidelines.
Department officials have not yet made details available on when they will release new nutritional requirements to replace those withdrawn by the Office of Management and Budget, nor can they say what the new proposal might include.
Federal regulations are not the only things made unnecessary by the enactment of education block grants this year, according to Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell.
Mr. Bell last week announced plans to eliminate 250 staff positions in the department--a move he says is possible because administering block-grants programs requires less staff time than administering the old categorical programs.
"We cannot continue positions for a mission that no longer exists," he told a meeting of employees in the office of elementary and secondary education, to whom most of the reduction-in-force notices will be sent by January. That office, he said, will administer only 13 programs next year, compared to 40 programs this year.
He made no mention of how many people states may have to hire to administer the new, $535-million program next year.
The House Education and Labor Committee last week approved a bill that would provide $87 million per year for improved foreign-language teaching.
Some Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the bill, but others objected on the grounds that it would be inappropriate to add a new federal program when others are being cut.
Secretary Bell, while he has expressed support for strengthened foreign-language teaching, is opposing the bill for similar reasons.
The legislation, sponsored by Representative Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, would reserve $10 million per year starting in 1983 for programs in elementary and secondary schools; the rest would go to institutions of higher education.
Under Mr. Simon's bill, states would be eligible for grants of $50,000 plus 4 cents per capita to support innovative foreign-language programs in the schools.
Supporters of the bill, which is similar to legislation Mr. Simon has introduced before without success, believe it has its best chance yet for passage during this session of the Congress. They are less optimistic, however, that federal funds will be appropriated to pay for it.
Although the political views of Senator Daniel P. Moynihan have been identified during the past few years as "neoconservative"--a term for a liberal who has changed his mind--the Democrat of New York was recently named by The New Republic magazine as one of the leaders of a new movement of "neoliberals."
Just what that label means is unclear, but the Senator recently had some unkind words to say about the conservatives currently directing federal education policy, particularly "the group that prepared" the Aug. 4emorandum in which Secretary Bell recommended to President Reagan that the Department of Education be turned into a foundation.
"Having read the long extract from the document...obtained by Education Week, I must report that the passages purporting to reflect American history and constitutional doctrine are mostly nonsense," Senator Moynihan said in a statement inserted in the Oct. 20 Congressional Record.
Regarding the Secretary's assertion in the document that "the Federal Government does not have responsibility for education," Mr. Moynihan responded that "no serious person has ever suggested anything of the sort."
"Certainly the group that prepared the education report seems to have been obsessed with the fear of the national government," the Senator said. "From this I conclude that there is something wanting, individually or collectively, in their education. (Someone should look into this)."
Neither Secretary Bell nor Deputy Undersecretary Gary L. Jones, chairman of the task force that prepared the 91-page memorandum, was available for comment.
The director of the Department of Education's office for gifted and talented children has been arrested on charges of pandering, prostitution, and possession of marijuana.
Harold C. Lyon Jr., a GS-15 who has held the federal education post since 1972, was charged by Arlington, Va., police with accepting money from a detective for providing the services of a prostitute.
A spokesman for the Arlington police department said detectives had been conducting a three-month investigation into prostitution activities in the Washington suburb.
Mr. Lyon, who has been placed on administrative leave by Secretary Bell, was not available for comment.