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Urban Educators Seek Federal Integration Aid

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Buffalo, NY--Concerned over the effects of diminishing federal support for school-desegregation efforts, the Council of Great City Schools has decided to draft legislation for consideration during the next Congressional session that would restore some federal aid for those programs.

Two legislative proposals were discussed during the organization's three-day conference here early this month. The council includes superintendents and board members from 28 of the nation's largest urban school systems.

The first proposal would reinstitute provisions of the Emergency School Aid Act (esaa), which the Reagan Administration last year combined with other federal education programs into block grants to the states.

Enacted in 1972, esaa provided federal aid to school districts to "encourage voluntary elimination, reduction, or prevention of minority-group isolation." Over the years, the program has enabled districts to support redistricting plans and to pair or cluster groups of schools, and has underwritten special curricula for students in integrated schools.

But because of the reductions in federal funding under the education block grants, and increased state authority over their allocation, many school districts have lost most of their desegregation funds. A few members of Congress have been sympathetic to the council's concern with the block-grant program, but so far no commitment has been made to appropriate any additional funds.

In testimony presented during a House subcommittee hearing last month, the council was critical of state block-grant formulas that did not provide for "high-cost children" in urban school districts. The council noted that the states are responsible under the block-grant program for dis-tributing funds to local districts "on a per-child basis rather than on a needs criterion."

According to the council's estimates, its member school districts have lost a total of $110 million in desegregation funds for the 1982-83 school year because of the new state formulas.

Minnesota, the council's analysis points out, will receive $7.6 million in federal aid this year under the block-grant program, a 15.4-percent increase over last year's $6.6-million allocation for categorical programs, including esaa

Of that total, Minneapolis's share this year will be an estimated $272,996, which is 55.3 percent less than the previous year's $610,712 allocation.

"We perceive that there's no serious commitment to school desegregation," said Michael Casserly, legislative and research associate for the council.

He said the group's proposed legislation would not necessarily mirror the old law "letter for letter," but that it would "aid the urban superintendents in what they've got to do."

Racially Diverse Schools

The second proposal would be in the form of an amendment that could be attached to any of some 25 bills, designed to strengthen the country's mathematics- and science-education programs, that have been introduced during the current Congressional session. Under this proposal, school districts could receive federal aid to establish racially diverse magnet schools in mathematics and science.

Desegregation, said Aubrey McCutcheon, a civil-rights attorney based in Detroit, during one conference session, will depend largely on school systems' ability to offer innovative--but often expensive--educational programs such as magnet schools, which have been widely used to encourage voluntary integration.

Mr. McCutcheon, the attorney representing the Buffalo school system in its school-desegregation case, argued that popular concern with the quality of education in the country is growing and cannot be ignored. "What's at the end of the bus line?" is the question people are asking about urban schools, he said.

In Buffalo, he said, the court's early orders directed school officials to concentrate on the number of minority students in each school. At that time, he said, the judge believed that "quality education was not the issue" even though the black plaintiffs had argued that position.

"Desegregation does not just mean pupil mix," Mr. McCutcheon said. In Detroit, where 90 percent of the students are members of minority groups, the emphasis should have been on "quality education instead of just shifting" student assigments to achieve racial balance, he said.

"It's more a matter of changing the delivery of educational services to assure equal educational opportunity for minority students," Mr. McCutcheon added. "If you do, you automatically improve the educational services for all children."

Reacting to the Administration's opposition to mandatory busing as a remedy for school desegregation, Mr. McCutcheon said most districts would not be receptive to assistance from the Justice Department in developing alternative desegregation plans.

Desegregation plans that are successful, according to Mr. McCutcheon, are those that come as a result of dedicated community leaders. "If you're like Buffalo, you don't want to be relieved of your plan," he said, which represents "the best plan for your schools."

Despite the confusion generated by the Administration's new initiatives, Mr. McCutcheon said, the only policy school districts must concern themselves with is the development and implementation of desegregation plans "that demonstrate our support for equal educational opportunity for all students."

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