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Congress has moved a step closer to passing a final budget for school-meal programs--with a plan that would reduce 1982 federal funding for the lunch program by approximately 17 percent.

In a Nov. 4 conference-committee meeting, members of the House and the Senate agreed on an appropriation of $2.486 billion for the school-lunch program, including commodities, and $335 million for the breakfast program. The appropriations will not be final until they have been approved by the full Congress and signed by President Reagan.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, which administers both programs, had projected similar figures: $2.464 billion for lunch and $335 million for breakfast.

The new plan represents substantial reductions in constant dollars from the past two years' budgets--particularly for the lunch program.

In fiscal year 1980, the lunch program was budgeted at $3.002 billion, including commodities; $307 million was allotted for breakfasts. In fiscal year 1981, $2.996 billion was allocated for school lunches and $341 million for school breakfasts.

The agency has not yet developed the new nutritional standards that presumably will aid local school officials in cutting costs.

A spokesman for the Food and Nutrition Service said she did not yet know when the regulations will be issued or what they might include. The first regulations proposed by the department were withdrawn earlier this fall after they received much negative publicity.

Some of the changes already initiated this year allow schools to use the so-called "offer-versus-serve" system, thereby saving food that students do not want; to raise the prices on reduced- and full-price meals; and to use new guidelines to decide which students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Because the teaching profession is attracting "the least academically able students," candidates for teaching positions should be given tests that are as stringent as the bar examination for lawyers, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said in a speech this month in St. Louis.

Mr. Bell, speaking at a meeting of the Missouri State Teachers Association, cited the decline over several years in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of education majors as evidence that "we need to be making some changes."

Among the changes he suggested were: tightening admissions standards for schools of education; preparing prospective teachers for the use of computer technology in the classroom; and paying higher salaries to outstanding teachers than to average teachers--a practice Mr. Bell said is common in higher education.

A civil-rights attorney in the Department of Education has resigned in protest over the "persistent, concerted effort to erode or eliminate the hard-won and much-needed civil-rights protection that Congress has made available to individuals," her letter of resignation says.

Charlotte McNaughton, who worked on intercollegiate-athletics matters in the Office for Civil Rights, said in an interview that Clarence Thomas, the assistant secretary who heads the office, has refused to cite schools for noncompliance with civil-rights regulations, was becoming "solicitous" toward institutions at the expense of individuals, and was not "interested in civil rights" in educational programs.

Ms. McNaughton claimed that the department's proposal to weaken Title IX regulations governing school dress codes will cause school systems to issue "unfair" rules on girls' appearance.

Mr. Thomas was said by a spokesman to be unavailable for comment.

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