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Puerto Rico Agrees To Equalize Spending in Chapter 1 Schools

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The Puerto Rico department of education and the U.S. Education Department have signed a consent decree in a class action that requires the commonwealth, by December of this year, to equalize spending among all schools serving disadvantaged children.

The settlement, which was approved last month, requires the Puerto Rico department of education to compare both teachers' salaries and teacher-pupil ratios in ascertaining whether it is allocating resources equally among those schools. Under Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981, states must demonstrate that schools receiving the federal aid for disadvantaged students also receives a fair share of education resources paid for out of state and local funds.

Comparability-of-Services

Federal education officials have maintained throughout the case, and in the new nonregulatory guide-lines for Chapter 1, that only one test--teacher-pupil ratios--is needed to show compliance with the comparability-of-services provision under Chapter 1.

"Our position is that the intent of the [Chapter 1] law is to make less demands on recordkeeping for the districts," said Benjamin F. Rice, education-program specialist for the U.S. Education Department. But in this case, he said, the use of the two-part test "did make a difference."

Under the legally binding regulations of the former Title I program, states and districts had to demonstrate that both teachers' salaries and pupil/teacher ratios were equivalent in Title I and non-Title I schools. The terms of the consent decree, which cannot set a legal precedent, requires Puerto Rico to use both measures, according to the judge's statement, because of the "particular circumstances" of the case; the settlement, the decree states, does not mean that Chapter 1 requires the two tests.

Nonetheless, the attorneys for the parents who brought the suit in 1980 are calling the terms of the consent order a major victory that will "ensure nondiscrimination" in the allocation of local resources. They contend that states and school districts should be careful about ''blindly" following federal guidelines.

Results Unfairly Skewed

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the parents of poor and educationally disadvantaged children claimed that the commonwealth's practice of using only one test for measuring comparability of services among the Chapter 1 schools discriminated against disadvantaged children and violated federal law. And they argued that in applying the teacher-pupil ratio, school officials included many noninstructional staff members as well as teachers, so that the results were unfairly skewed.

They also contended that officials allowed the commonwealth's support for each school to vary by about twice the 5-percent average.

This year, about 285,000 of Puerto Rico's public- and private-school students are participating in Chapter 1 programs.

There were 708,673 public-school students in the commonwealth last year.

Puerto Rico's share of Chapter 1 funds was about $108 million.

The plaintiffs also had asked the court to declare illegal a 1979 agreement between federal and commonwealth officials that canceled out competing claims that Puerto Rico misspent $24 million in Title I funds and that federal officials failed to appropriate $12 million due the commonwealth for its compensatory-education program.

According to the terms of the consent order, federal education officials are to monitor the commonwealth's compliance with the agreement and to conduct audits of the Chapter 1 program for the next two years.

The consent order also requires the Puerto Rico department of education to pay $35,000 to the plaintiffs to cover attorneys fees.

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