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Title I Parents to Join Lobbying Effort Against US Program Cuts

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St Louis--A nationwide lobbying effort aimed at preserving financial support for, and parental involvement in, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (esea) may be gaining momentum.

"This is one of the most crucial times we have ever been faced with," said Elayne Brodie of Newark, N.J., president of the National Coalition of esea Title I Parents. The parents' coalition is joining other concerned groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), Operation Push, and the Seventh Day Christian Conference, to fight cuts and changes in Title I programs enacted under the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 (ecia).

Parents and Educators Agree

Several thousand parents and educators, meeting here for four days late last month in the eighth annual esea conference, appeared to agree with their leaders that the large funding reduction and deregulation of Title I contained in the bill would "water down immensely" the existing Title I programs. "It would be tantamount to having nothing," said Ms. Brodie. (See Databank on this page.)

Although the 1982 funding levels for education programs have not yet3been set, the consolidation bill set a Title I spending ceiling of $3.48 billion annually through 1984. This "cap" will assure that the program's funding cannot continue to grow without specific legislative action amending the ecia.

Moreover, Congress has, during the fall budget appropriations process--in which specific spending levels are set--appeared to be treating the spending "ceiling" as just that.

Although the Senate has not yet acted, the House last month passed a bill that would provide $3.2 billion for Title I.

More Reductions Requested

That figure represents a 3-percent growth in Title I funding from the $3.1 billion 1981 level (not accounting for inflation).

And President Reagan, in his revised budget request, has asked Congress to reduce Title I spending for 1982 even more, to $2.47 billion--representing a 20 percent cut from last year.

At the St. Louis meeting, Ms. Bro6die and other speakers urgently requested parents to take action "against this callous disregard by the President, this willingness to ignore disadvantaged children.

"Now we have one year to just pull it together," Ms. Brodie continued. "At this time more than ever, parents, teachers, and administrators cannot afford to be apathetic at all--this is the time to rededicate--and the parents must remember that complacent people breed a decay in society.

"We cannot turn the clock back at this point," said Ms. Brodie. "We must fight with all the energy we have because the children are the bottom line, and they are the most precious community commodity."

'Number One Priority'

Participants, who included representatives from the 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Guam, agreed to return to their local districts to convince lawmakers that "education is a number one priority.''

Six million students in elemenel20ltary and secondary schools now receive supplemental mathematics and reading instruction offered with Title I funds. That number would be slashed by about 1.3 million students under the proposed aid-to-education policies, according to some estimates quoted at the conference.

Legislation Criticized

Speakers sharply criticized the proposed legislation, arguing it would further weaken Title I programs by eliminating the school-level parent advisory councils that are required under the current Title I law.

The councils have monitored the spending of Title I funds on the local level for the past 10 years. Without such watchdogs, several parents asserted that the system of accountability for the federal funds might well be lost.

"The parents backed the local boards of education in the sense that they couldn't just take the money and do what they want," said Ms. Brodie, pointing out that under the existing regulations, if a district3failed to comply, the federal support could be withheld.

However, under the proposed law, the parents' role would be reduced to that of consultant. "Who will consult and when? That is the question," said Ms. Brodie.

She said legislators looking for belt-tightening measures should avoid cutting dollars earmarked for education.

"If anything, we need more money to attract qualified and educated teachers," she said.

Parents Express Concern

Ms. Brodie said parents are also worried that the Reagan Administration will again seek to include Title I in an education-block-grants package; Congress declined to act on that proposal in its 1982 budget bill. "Unrestricted monies coming into a district could be used for general aid," she asserted.

"Politicians could use it for anything other than the intent of the law. The money should be used for our children who have the sorest needs in education."

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