Federal News Roundup
President Reagan late last month approved a funding bill that increases the fiscal 1983 appropriations for educating disadvantaged and handicapped children and for the school-lunch program.
The measure, approved on July 30, boosts funds for special-education grants to the states by $970 million, for special-education resource centers by $1.2 million, and for "centers for independent living" by $2.1-million.
It also includes an additional $40-million for the $3.2-billion Chapter 1 program for educationally disadvantaged students. The funds are to be used to offset the loss to numerous states this fall, when the Education Department begins allocating Chapter 1 funds on the basis of 1980 census data.
The funds for special education and Chapter 1 will affect schools' programs in the 1983-84 school year. For the school-lunch program, the bill adds $118 million to the $3-billion already spent on school meals this fiscal year. The money will be used to reimburse schools for funds spent in the 1982-83 school year.
Borrowing under the $6.2-billion federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program is expected to increase by 25 percent, to $7.7 billion, in fiscal 1983, according to new estimates by the Office of Management and Budget.
Analysts say that demand for student loans may be spurred by higher college costs, the weak economy, and better public understanding of new eligibility rules for the program.
Last year, when more stringent eligibility rules were established, borrowing declined by 20 percent, from $7.8 billion to $6.2 billion.
This month, the U.S. Education Department announced that interest charged on the guaranteed loans will drop from 9 to 8 percent in September. The lower rates will apply only to students who are borrowing under the loan program for the first time.
The change stems from a 1980 law that requires the interest to drop to 8 percent if the rate paid on U.S. treasury bills is less than 9 percent in the course of a year.
Following the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the House education subcommittee has approved a resolution that reaffirms the federal government's role in education.
The measure, which will be taken up by the full Education and Labor Committee after the August recess, expresses the "sense of the House" that the federal government should set national priorities in education and support programs through the Education Department for disadvantaged precollege and college students.
The measure was approved early this month, as the chairman of the committee, Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky, released the results of a survey of members of the commission.
Of the commission's 18 members, 10 had responded to the survey. Eight of those who responded said the commission's report calls for more federal funding for education, according to Representative Perkins.
The survey, and the resolution, are designed to counter the Reagan Administration's efforts to "reverse" the growth of the federal role in education "at the very moment that a rededication to the needs of education is most urgently required," Representative Perkins said.
A bill introduced last week by Representative Timothy E. Wirth, Democrat of Colorado, would appropriate $3.2 billion in grants over the next 10 years to promote "computer literacy" in schools.
The main component of the bill would provide $300 million annually to the Education Department to distribute to states for computer hardware purchases. State departments of education would distribute the funds.
No school with more than one computer for every 30 students would be eligible for grants.
Another $20-million annual appropriation would provide grants to states for training teachers and administrators to use computers.
The bill also calls for the National Institute of Education and the National Science Foundation to evaluate hardware and software that schools plan to purchase with the grants.
The bill, which has been referred to both the Education and Labor Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, has 46 cosponsors, an aide to Representative Wirth said.
The aide said the bill does not include money for developing software because the hardware purchases "would be creating a tremendous market" for software manufacturers.
In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision barring tax breaks for racially discriminatory schools, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled that private religious schools in Mississippi must recruit minority faculty and staff members in order to qualify for tax-exempt status.
In the case, Green v. Regan, U.S. District Judge George L. Hart also rejected the claim of the Clarksdale Baptist Church that the Internal Revenue Service's inspection of school admissions records would violate church officials' First Amendment rights.
The ruling was based on the Supreme Court's rejection of First Amendment claims by two educational institutions in Bob Jones University v. United States.
The decision, in the Green case, which was brought as a class action in 1969, would require affirmative action in admissions and hiring by private religious schools throughout Mississippi.
The ruling will be appealed, according to the schools' attorney, William B. Ball, who also represented Bob Jones University.
A U.S. District Court this fall will hear a challenge to Rhode Island's practice of distributing block-grant money to church-affiliated schools, but the court refused to stop distribution of the money before the trial is completed.
State affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association and 12 taxpayers filed suit to block distribution of money to private schools. Private schools used $350,000 of the state's $2.2 million in Chapter 2 money last year, according to an official in the state's department of education.
The aclu has charged that the materials bought by the private schools can be used for religious instruction and therefore the purchases were in violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Both Rhode Island and the U.S. Education Department were named as defendants.
The state this year requires private schools to declare that they will not use materials bought with Chapter 2 funds in sectarian or ideological instruction, state education officials said. The schools are already required by the federal government to sign a similar statement.
The Senate earlier this month approved a measure intended to clarify and to correct mistakes in the legislation that created the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged children and the Chapter 2 program of block grants to states. The House passed a similar version of the bill last April.
Among other things, the House and Senate bills extend so-called "Category B" impact-aid payments to school districts through September 1984. Those aid payments, which go to districts that enroll children whose parents live or work at federal installations, are scheduled to cease in September.
The bills also retain current eligibility requirements for the Chapter 1 program for migrant children and reinstate Chapter 1 "concentration grants" for districts that enroll many disadvantaged children.
A House-Senate conference committee will have to iron out the differences when the Congress returns.