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The Education Department's office for civil rights announced last week that, as of Oct. 1, its staff members would be spending more time responding to specific civil-rights complaints lodged by individuals and less time reviewing school systems' general performance in meeting civil-rights requirements.

The civil-rights office's annual operating plan, which was published in the March 8 Federal Register, would reduce the total amount of time spent on both of those activities, in spite of an anticipated increase in the number of civil-rights complaints received by the agency.

The plan would devote 371 "staff years"--the equivalent of a single staff member working full time for one year--to complaint investigations and "compliance reviews" next year, compared to 415 "staff years" this year.

The reduction is said to result from budget constraints; the civil-rights office was funded under the 1982 continuing resolution at $46.9 million, the same allocation it received last year without accounting for inflation.

Members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights criticized the agency for reducing the number of compliance reviews, which the commission called "its most effective enforcement tool."

The plan was also criticized by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, which considers insufficient the 15 "staff years'' that the office plans to devote to ensuring compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law barring sex discrimination in federally supported activities.


Members of the House appropriations subcommittee that sets spending levels for education programs last week joined other members of Congress in denouncing the President's fiscal 1983 education budget.

At a hearing at which Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell testified in favor of the budget proposal, Representative Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Massachusetts, said that the education budget should not be cut in order to increase the national defense budget.

"Four billion dollars may only be ashtrays, note pads, and stars for generals down at the Pentagon, but in education it represents aid" to needy children, Mr. Conte said. "You just can't cut the same programs over and over again and say defense is sacrosanct."

"I know it takes a lot of courage to submit the education budget you've submitted, but we don't hear too much support for it," said Representative William H. Natcher, a Kentucky Democrat and chairman of the appropriation panel.

Secretary Bell, who characterized the President's budget as a "temporary retrenchment" that was necessary "until we get the economy back on track," also discussed his plan to reduce the Education Department to a foundation.

The proposal would be introduced to the Congress "in a matter of days," Mr. Bell said.


Mark Freeman of the Shaker Heights, Ohio, school system, speaking last week at the meeting of the National Committee for School Desegregation:

"You know, when the Reagan Administration proposed block grants, a lot of people in the education community jumped up and down and said, 'This is the greatest thing in the world. We're going to get a blank check.'

"And that's exactly what we got."

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