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Conflict Over Title 1 Funds To Go to Supreme Court

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Washington--U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee is expected within the next few days to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the Education Department's (ED) legal authority to require states to reimburse it for Title I funds that were allegedly misspent prior to 1978, Justice Department officials said last week.

Demands for Repayment

More than 20 states, through a variety of administrative and judicial appeals, have contested the ed audits which have resulted in demands for repayment. Department officials claim that before 1978 the states allowed local education agencies to violate Title I spending requirements. The states, however, maintain that ed lacked the specific statutory authority to demand the repayments, which range in amount from $10,000 to $28 million, before 1978.

ed was granted specific authority to recover misspent Title I aid, which is disbursed to states for the education of disadvantaged children, by the passage of the General Education Provisions Act of 1978.

The Supreme Court, according to Justice Department officials, will be asked to decide whether that authority can be extended retroactively to funds that were spent prior to the passage of the act.

The department's ability to demand the repayments was cast into doubt last October when two federal appeals courts rendered conflicting rulings on the subject in two separate cases.

In the first case, State of New Jersey v. Hufstedler, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled on Oct. 13 that the federal department did not have the authority to recover a total of $1.45 million in misspent funds from the Pennsylva-nia and New Jersey departments of education.

On Oct. 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in State of West Virginia v. Secretary of Education, a similar case involving the West Virginia department of education.

Mark T. Sheehan, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the Solicitor General will ask the Su-preme Court to review the decision in the Third Circuit case involving Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The department, he said, has until May 16 to file its appeal with the Supreme Court.

Judicial Review

Late last month, the Court turned down without comment a similar motion for judicial review by the West Virginia department of educa-tion, which sought to appeal the Fourth Circuit court's ruling ordering the state to repay more than $100,000 to the federal government.

West Virginia's request for judicial review was filed on April 17, more than three weeks after the legal deadline for filing an appeal with the Court had expired.

Mr. Sheehan of the Justice Department said the federal government avoided a denial of judicial review on similar technical grounds by requesting, and receiving, two deadline extensions from the Justices.--T.M.

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