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Bell Defends the Use Of 1970 Census Data In Title I Allocation

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Washington--Acknowledging that he "would be taken to court" by several states because of a decision to use 12-year-old census data in allocating Title I funds for the coming school year, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell nevertheless defended the decision at a news conference here last week.

At issue are two sets of census figures--collected in 1970 and in 1980--on the number of children from impoverished families. The department is required by law to allocate Title I funds based on the number of disadvantaged children in each state, as determined by "the most recent satisfactory data available" from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Complete Data Unavailable

Secretary Bell contended that because complete data from the 1980 census will not be available until after July 1, when the initial Title I grant awards are made, the allocations should be based on the 1970 census.

Title I will also be renamed "Chapter I" on that date, based on the 1981 Education Consolidation and Improvement Act, which takes effect July 1.

"School districts need to know of fund allocations in sufficient time to set their budgets. When we consider the number of school systems affected (approximately 14,000), it would require more time than would be available for the coming school year if we waited for the receipt and processing of 1980 census data,'' he said.

But because 19 states--many of them in the Northeast and Midwest--are likely to lose Title I funds if the older data are used, education officials from several states may join a lawsuit initiated by the New York department of education to require that allocations be made using the more current data.

Gordon M. Ambach, New York's commissioner of education, announced his intention to file suit because his state could lose nearly $40 million next year.

A spokesman for the state department of education said that estimate was based on the census count of the number of children from impoverished families, which grew in New York from more than 526,000 in 1970 to more than 643,000 in 1980--an increase of over 22 percent.

Increase Experienced

At least three states, Nevada, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, experienced an increase of over 25 percent in the number of children from poor families.

Conversely, the number of children from poor families decreased in the District of Columbia and 13 states--many of them in the South and West--during the 10-year period. (See accompanying table.)

Secretary Bell insisted that using older census figures was not an unusual practice. "The 1970 census data were first used in 1973-74, and we will be using 1980 census data in 1983-84," completing "the normal 10-year cycle," he said.

The Secretary added that he made the decision knowing that "either way, I'm going to end up in court," challenged by states that would lose funds based on either of the two sets of data.

Compromise Suggested

To avoid that situation, two Republican members of the House Committee on Education and Labor wrote to Mr. Bell last week to suggest a compromise.

The department could meet its July deadline by allocating to each state 85 percent of its current Title I award, said the letter from Representatives William F. Goodling of Pennsylvania and John N. Erlenborn of Illinois.

"When the complete 1980 census data [are] available, the remaining [Title I] funds can be used to meet the [Title I] allocations according to the 1980 census data," said the letter, dated May 24.

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