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Bell Backs Targeting of Chapter 2 Funds to Needy

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told a group of urban educators last week that he backs the concept of targeting Chapter 2 block grants to areas enrolling a disproportionate number of "high-cost" children, but that the Office of Management and Budget has blocked his efforts to do so.

"Inside the Administration, especially between the Education Department and omb, there's been quite a fight on this," Mr. Bell told members of the Council of Great City Schools, who were here for their annual legislative conference. "omb feels a block grant should be a block grant, that we should give you the maximum amount of discretion possible."

But, he noted, many of the categorical programs that were consolidated into the Chapter 2 block grant by the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 were focused on educationally needy students.

"Some states have not recognized this and have not put enough emphasis on these students," Mr. Bell continued. "But when I try to promulgate new rules on high-cost children, [omb officials] come at me and say, 'Keep your hands off."'

The legislation that created the block-grants program requires states to adopt funding formulas that take into account the higher costs associated with educating certain groups of students, such as the disadvantaged and the handicapped. The law, however, does not specify how much money needs to be set aside for these groups, nor does it require that those funds actually be spent on programs to benefit them.

Study Finds Disparities

Mr. Bell's observations were supported by a report released last week by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, which found that only 17 states direct Chapter 2 funds earmarked for high-cost children to those districts with the greatest need for such aid.

Another 15 states "are now sending funds for needy children to virtually all their districts," and 17 others target only some of their high-cost aid, said Anne Henderson, the author of the report.

"Most of the states are going to have to take a hard look at their Chapter 2 formulas and start directing aid to the districts that need it most," she said.

Last year, the Congress enacted a package of technical amendments to Chapter 2. In the conference report that accompanied the bill, members of the House and Senate stated that in passing Chapter 2, it was their intent that aid for high-cost children be earmarked for school districts "with only the greatest numbers or percentages of high-cost children" rather than to districts "with any number or percentage of such children."

Criticizes the Congress

Mr. Bell criticized the Congress for not incorporating this language in the measure itself. "If they had clarified the legislation, this position would have been stronger. They had the opportunity, but they didn't take it. They knew that if they did, they'd have a real brawl on their hands" when the issue reached the floors of the chambers.

Mr. Bell said his department is still in the process of drafting new regulations addressing the high-cost issue. But because those regulations will have to be cleared by omb, it may be a while before they are published in the Federal Register, he added.

Copies of the ncce report on Chapter 2 can be obtained for $2.50 plus $1 for postage and handling by writing to ncce, 410 Wilde Lake Village Green, Columbia, Md. 21044.

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