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Private Schools Pursue Block Grants

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As public-education officials work out the necessary details for disbursing the new federal block grants, private-school officials--on the state, local, and national levels--are also preparing to ensure that their students are allowed to participate equitably in local block-grants programs.

National private-school organizations, such as the education division of the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Council for American Private Education, have sent information to their member schools, explaining the new law--the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981. And representatives of private schools are being named, as required by the federal law, to the state-level committees that advise state education departments on the block-grants distribution formulas.

Few of the 50 state officials interviewed for this report said they could foresee any problems with the participation of private-school students in local programs funded under the block grants, which are scheduled to begin during the 1982-83 school year.

Largest Program

Most officials said private schools would receive services under the new program in the same way they did under the "libraries and learning resources" (Title IV-B) program, which was the largest federal education program consolidated into block grants.

Under that program, 90 percent of all Catholic schools and 40 percent of all other private schools received library materials and instructional equipment as well as testing, counseling, and guidance services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (nces).

Private-school students historically have been eligible to participate in a total of 39 federal education programs, although their participation rate in most programs--with the exception of the Title I program for disadvantaged students--is generally low, according to the nces

Because federal law continues to prohibit the transfer of money to private schools, the educational services to students under the block-grants program will continue to be delivered by teachers hired by the public schools and using public-school materials, most officials said.

Customarily, such procedures include sending public-school teachers into private-school classrooms; sending private-school children to public schools on a part-time basis; lending instructional materials and mobile equipment to private schools; using mobile-classroom units; or teaching students through the use of educational television and radio, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In the few states in which public-school officials have previously refused to provide services to private-school students, state officials or the U.S. Secretary of Education are instructed by the new federal law to arrange for the educational services under contractual agreements with private companies--a procedure known as a "bypass."

Officials of the state education departments in Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Virginia said they expect a "bypass" will be neces-sary for some school districts.

Larry Vontz, finance administrator for the Nebraska state education agency, said private contracts already exist for providing private-school students with services under the school-lunch program and the Title IV-C program--another program that will be eliminated by block grants next year.

'Most Strict' Laws

Similarly, Missouri has "used the bypass for several years," reported Otis G. Baker, coordinator of federal programs for the state's department of education. "We have the most strict church-state separation laws in the country, and we've had several rounds of litigation over them. We have had a bypass in Title IV-B and in Title I for 50 school districts. We very likely will request the Secretary of Education to invoke a bypass for the block grants," Mr. Baker said. Other state officials reported that the private-school representatives--like public-school representatives--have shown mixed reactions to the prospect of consolidating the former categorical programs into block grants.

In Nevada, where schools will be receiving 28 percent more federal block-grants money next year than they are currently receiving under the categorical programs, private-school representatives are pleased about the increase in funds, said James P. Costa, associate state superintendent of education.

The situation also has created a "problem," Mr. Costa said, because "we have profit-making schools, who now think they can be eligible to receive the block-grants" services. "The federal statute isn't clear on that," he said.

"Private-school kids were served equitably under the antecedent programs, and private-school interest groups see the [block-grants] law as just," said James E. Mitchell, deputy state superintendent of instruction in Iowa. That state will be receiving a 6-percent increase in funds over this year's level.

An administrator in another state, which will be receiving less money next year than it receives currently, said private-school representatives join their public-school counterparts in considering the block-grants program "not a boon, but a boondoggle."

Contrast Revealed

Other state representatives said they were unsure about which types of private schools would take advantage of the block-grants programs.

"We have quite a contrast in private schools in North Carolina," said Weaver B. Rogers Jr., director of the education-consolidation program for that state. "The Catholic schools are very interested in federal funds. We also have fundamental-ist [schools whose representatives] don't even want to hear from the federal government."

The diversity of private schools in some states, the Northeastern states in particular, has created some confusion over who is eligible to participate and how a public-school system can equitably deliver the educational services.

In Connecticut, which has a large population of boarding-school students, many of whose parents reside in other states, R. Douglas Dopp said the state was unsure whether such students would be eligible to participate in block-grants prorams.

"The advisory committee has been a little puzzled about the block-grant regulations because the amount of money going to private-schools kids is based on the total enrollment of the private schools, instead of on the number of private-school students who are residents of the state," Mr. Dopp said.

Likewise, James P. Costa, acting associate commissioner of education in Massachusetts, said he foresaw that it would "be difficult for districts with diverse nonpublic schools" to serve all eligible students.

Jo Ann Weinberger, Pennsylvania's deputy superintendent of education, said private-school representatives in her state may ask the state to instruct its 29 regional educational service centers, rather than school districts, to provide the private-school programs.

"The feeling [of private-school representatives] is that such an arrangement would give them greater assurance of being served," Weinberger said.

And in Delaware, state officials are concerned that local school districts may have trouble designing programs under the block grants if disagreements between public- and private-school officials exist over what types of programs should be funded.

Randall L. Broyles, assistant state superintendent, said it is his understanding that private-school representatives can "choose what services they want to 'buy' with their federal money, and the local education agency has to provide them even if [it] doesn't currently offer them. There has been some concern about the burden [such a situation may cause], but I do not foresee any major concern," Mr. Broyles said.

Representatives of some of the major national private-school organizations expressed enthusiasm for the block-grants program, although most of them said their member schools would prefer aid to families of private-school students in the form of tuition tax credits.

Both Groups Benefit

"Under the old categorical programs, there was really only one that provided [much money] for the participation of private-school kids--Title IV-B," said Richard E. Duffy, representative for federal assistance in the education division of the U.S. Catholic Conference.

"We feel that under the consolidation, it's going to benefit private-school children and public-school children," he continued. "When you had this whole array of special projects, many of the public-school kids never even participated because funding was not that great and competition was extremely keen. Most of the money went to a few places. The consolidation gives a greater flexibility."

Robert L. Smith, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, said he believes "it's really hard to predict" whether private-school students will receive more equitable treatment under block grants than they did under the former categorical programs.

Family Support Preferred

Anne Rosenfeld, director of public information for the National Association of Independent Schools, said she did not "expect there will be much independent-school involvement" in the block-grants programs. ''Our board said in 1980 that they don't want to consider [accepting] aid that goes directly to schools; they would [prefer] support that goes to families."

Ms. Rosenfeld said the independent-school organization had surveyed its member schools and had determined that only "a handful" had been receiving educational services under the Title IV-B program. She said the services had amounted to no more than $2,000 annually to each school.

Christian schools are also unlikely to participate in the block-grants programs, said Jack K. Clayton, Washington representative of the American Association of Christian Schools.

"We take no federal, state, or local funds. In order to be a member [of the association], you can't receive [such] funds," he said.

If there are any advantages for private-school students under the new program, said Kenneth Terrell, special assistant in the U.S. Education Department's office of private education, they will come from the statute's requirement that private-school children be counted when states determine the number of eligible children residing in a school district.

"The private schools may be better off under [block grants] because every school kid in the state is eligible [to participate], and there is an equal-expenditure clause in the block-grants legislation," Mr. Terrell said.

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