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House Panel Urged To Boost Funding for Equity Program

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Washington--Advocates of equal rights for women in education urged a House subcommittee last week to substantially increase funding for the $6-million Women's Educational Equity Act.

The grants program, which is intended to promote equal educational opportunities for women and girls, was authorized in 1974 after Congressional deliberations suggested education in the United States was "frequently inequitable" for women and limited their full participation in society.

The program was established to provide grants to schools, colleges, and community agencies to support the development, demonstration, and dissemination of model equity programs and materials. Initial funding for the program was set at $6.25 million in 1976; funding rose to a peak level of $10 million in 1980.

But the program has faced administrative and financial problems since the Reagan Administration took office. In 1981, the Administration requested that its funding be placed in the block-grants package to states. Every year since then, the Administration has proposed that no money be spent on the program, which is due to expire this September.

According to Leslie R. Wolfe, a former director of the weea project who was fired from her post last year, the Administration has also "placed the program in the bureaucratic basement" of the U.S. Education Department, cut staff from eight to five, and filled the previously bipartisan National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs with political appointees, many of whom have no background in women's or equity issues. Ms. Wolfe is now director of the Project on Equal Education Rights of the now Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Program Attacked

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education last week, Ms. Wolfe said that in its attempts to downgrade and eliminate weea, the Administration has "vigorously attacked" the purposes of the program, which she added has not yet had a chance to accomplish its important goals.

"In its eight years of life, weea has funded over 400 exemplary programs," she said. "But it would be impossible to expect that eight years of weea could complete the work mandated by its statute--to provide educational equity for women in the United States."

Ms. Wolfe recommended that the program be funded at $80 million over several years. She also suggested changes that would clarify the purpose of weea, require that the program continue to support dissemination activities, stipulate that individuals selected to serve on the advisory council have some relevant expertise, and guarantee that the program is administered by the U.S. Education Department "in an appropriate manner."

Barbara Stein, chairman of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, made similar recommendations. She said that reauthorization of the act should require that the program be reinstated at a higher level in the Education Department that is directly responsible to the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement. She also urged that the director of the office be an expert in educational equity, be chosen from a nationwide competition, and have a staff that includes people with expertise in women's educational equity.

Ms. Stein urged that the program's funding be raised to $80 million and that the Congress set minimum grants at $40,000 each.

Representative Howard C. Nielson, Republican of Utah, questioned panelists about their links to radical feminist organizations and questioned the fact that grant recipients included groups called the Women's Support Network and the Feminist Press. He also criticized the program for distributing a majority of funds to three regions of the country.

Ms. Wolfe of peer said that between 1980 to 1983, grants were given to organizations in 43 states. Numerous grants were awarded to national agencies based in Washington, D.C., with the understanding that the programs were to be "field- tested nationwide."

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