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Judge Offers To Unfreeze Funds If Reagan Will Act on Chicago

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A federal district judge indicated last week that he will release $15.7- million in frozen Education Department funds if the Reagan Administration provides the Chicago public schools with $20 million in desegregation assistance.

Early this month, the Congress gave President Reagan the authority to provide those funds to the nation's third-largest school district when it passed a spending bill that keeps most government agencies running through Nov. 10. Mr. Reagan signed the measure, known as a continuing resolution, on Oct. 1.

Education Deparment spokesmen said late last week that they had not yet been officialy notified of U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur's latest action in the five-month-old legal battle, U.S. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago.

The amount of money that Judge Shadur offered to release on Oct. 5 would allow programs affected by the funding freeze to continue functioning through the end of January 1984, according to state and local education officials who have been monitoring the situation.

Areas of the federal education budget affected by the freeze include desegregation assistance under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, women's educational equity, Follow Through, special assistance to the Virgin Islands, and the Secretary of Education's discretionary fund.

The legal dispute stems from a 1980 negotiated settlement that bound the federal government to "make every good-faith effort" to provide funds to finance the school system's desegregation plan.

Last July, Judge Shadur ruled that federal officials had failed to live up to that agreement and impounded $47.5 million in Education Department funds, pending the federal government's payment of at least $14.6 million to the school district. A federal appeals court upheld the validity of the funding freeze last month.

Bill Vetoed

In August, the Congress passed a bill that would have allowed the Secretary of Education to spend $20 million in unused student-loan funds to settle the dispute. President Reagan, however, vetoed that measure.

Late last month, the Congress passed the measure once again by including it as an amendment to the continuing resolution.

A few days earlier, Judge Shadur released $4.3 million of the disputed funds to keep federally financed programs affected by the funding freeze alive through the end of this month. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983.)

The amount that he cited for release last week, together with the amount he released on Sept. 26, totals $20 million--precisely the same amount that the Congress authorized the Secretary of Education to give to Chicago's schools.

In other desegregation-related activity:

A citizens' advisory committee has concluded that although a five-year-old school-desegregation plan in Seattle has successfully eliminated segregation at the building level, classrooms remain substantially segregated.

The city school board commissioned the study in November 1982 to assess the 1978 desegregation plan, one of the largest ever undertaken by a school district without pressure from the courts or civil-rights agencies.

According to the committee's report, "to a certain extent, segregation between schools has been replaced by in-building, or programmatic, segregation."

For example, the panel noted, specialized magnet and optional programs that were created in certain schools to foster integration currently enroll a disproportionate number of white students. At the same time, minority students continue to dominate regular and remedial classes and are suspended from school at a disproportionate rate.

The report's main findings generally parallel those found in a companion analysis, also released late last month, that was conducted by officials in the school district's office of integration.

Under the voluntarily adopted plan, 11,000 of the district's 44,000 students are bused daily for desegregation purposes. Approximately 52 percent of the district's students are white, 22 percent are black, 18 percent are Asian, and 4 percent are Hispanic.

Statewide Initiative

In June 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a voter-approved statewide initiative that would have prohibited the district from implementing its busing plan because federal courts had never found the district in violation of the Constitution. (See Education Week, Aug. 18, 1982.)

Donald Steele, superintendent of the school district, received the citizens' and staff reports in late September. He expects to make recommendations based on the documents to the school board in about a month, according to James R. Hawkins, a spokesman for the district.

A federal appellate court late last month, granting a request by the state of Missouri, blocked the transfer of additional black St. Louis students to mostly white suburban schools under a landmark voluntary-desegregation plan.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said on Sept. 30 that no more transfers could be made until it holds a hearing on the merits of the finance section of the plan next month.

The court, however, decided to continue allowing white suburban students to transfer to specialized magnet schools in the city.

According to city school officials, approximately 3,000 city students are now attending suburban schools, and about 400 suburban students are attending schools in the city.

The state has asked the appeals court to overturn U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate's ruling requiring it to finance a substantial portion of the plan. Such a ruling oversteps legal bounds because the state has never been found liable for student segregation in the city or suburbs, lawyers for Missouri have argued.

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