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House Panel Told Aid Formula Slows School Integration

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Washington--Educators and researchers joined the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in asserting before a House panel last week that efforts to desegregate public schools have slowed considerably since the implementation of the education block-grants program a year ago.

The inclusion of the the Emergency School Aid Act of 1972 (esaa), a categorical desegregation-aid program, in Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 (ecia) "has made it difficult, if not impossible, to ensure that equality of educational opportunity exists for all in the nation's schools," Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the civil-rights commission, told the House Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources last week during an oversight hearing.

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David S. Tatel, director of the office for civil rights in the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1977 to 1979 and a member of the board of directors of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, testified that the block-grants program has had a "devastating impact" on school systems' desegregation plans.

He noted that only five states took such factors as minority enrollment or racial isolation into account in their block-grant funding formulas last year, although 43 states benefited from the esaa program the year before. And he cited a study of about 1,200 school districts last spring by the American Association of School Administrators that found that only 5.7 percent of school systems used Chapter 2 money for programs that previously would have been funded under esaa.

In 1981, esaa provided school systems with $149.2 million in aid to support such desegregation-related efforts as magnet schools, remedial programs, staff development, and community relations. Last year, the states received approximately $455- million under Chapter 2.

Several of the 20 witnesses called before the subcommittee urged Congress to pass legislation that would reauthorize esaa. One measure, which would re-establish esaa as a categorical program with a funding ceiling of $100 million, has passed in the House and is pending in the Senate.

Mr. Pendleton and others criticized the Education Department for failing to issue regulations requiring states to target Chapter 2 funds for desegregation programs in inner cities and other areas with large minority populations. "The department proposed no standards for evaluating states' formulas or requirements that states show they would concentrate Chapter 2 funds on the neediest school districts, as Congress intended," Mr. Pendleton told the subcommittee.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell said in a Jan. 31 letter to the Council of the Great City Schools that "nothing in the [ecia] law requires the Department of Education to promulgate enforceable standards for determining whether state criteria for adjusting the allocations are reasonably calculated to produce an equitable distribution of funds." This summer, the department is-sued the final version of its nonbinding Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 guidelines.

Anne T. Henderson of the National Committee for Citizens in Education testified that the nation's 30 largest school systems received much less federal aid under Chapter 2 than they did under the 29 categorical programs that were folded into it. She said those districts, which enroll nearly half of the nation's minority students, received 45 percent less in federal funds during 1982-83 than during the year before.

Ms. Henderson said that under Chapter 2 there "has been a massive redistribution of federal funds away from states serving large numbers of poor, nonwhite children."

Witnesses testified that states, on average, distributed 70 percent of their Chapter 2 aid to school systems on the basis of enrollment and 30 percent on the basis of the number of a system's "high-cost" students, such as the handicapped or disadvantaged.

Representative Robert S. Walker, Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said during the hearing that he thought such a formula adequately accounted for the needs of high-cost students.

Leonard M. Britton, superintendent of schools in Dade County, Fla., responded that "there must be an unequal distribution of dollars because the needs of students in different places are unequal."

Early in the hearing, Representative Walker and Representative Ted S. Weiss, Democrat of New York and chairman of the subcommittee, engaged in a somewhat heated exchange.

"I must express my concern about the one-sided approach reflected in the list of prospective witnesses," Mr. Walker said, adding that he had not been given the list of witnesses until 24 hours before the hearing. Mr. Weiss said that, on the contrary, the Republican staff of the committee had been given a witness list several days prior to the hearing.

Gary Bauer, deputy under secretary of education for planning, budget, and evaluation, testified that Congress intended that Chapter 2 address state and locally determined priorities, minimize paperwork, and be designed and implemented by "those closest to students and their parents."

He noted that local school officials responding to surveys done for his office said that Chapter 2 has reduced the administrative burden on them and has afforded them greater discretion over how federal aid is used.

However, several local educators who testified at the hearing said there was too little guidance for school systems concerning the proper use of Chapter 2 funds. "In practical terms," said Mr. Britton, "the brevity of the statute, the limited scope of the regulations, the nonbinding characteristics of federal guidance, and the extension of rule-making authority to state education agencies have resulted in confusion, contradiction, and a general lack of clarity at the district level."

Studies cited at the hearing have found that school systems used about half of their Chapter 2 funds for books, computers, and other materials.

Ms. Henderson noted in her testimony that many school systems are administering their block grants in much the same way that they administered grants they received through Title IV-B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which also provided assistance in the purchasing of instructional materials.

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