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The Reagan Administration has decided not to aid Washington State at this time in its appeal of a federal judge's ruling that the state must pay up to $1 billion in back wages and pay increases to 14,000 women employees who were paid less than men doing work of comparable worth.

The Justice Department, which had considered filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is hearing the state's appeal, did not meet last week's deadline for filing the brief, according to John Wilson, a department spokesman. But that does not rule out the possibility that the Administration will file an amicus brief at a later date, Mr. Wilson added.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Jack E. Tanner ruled, in what is considered the first major court test of comparable worth, that Washington State had discriminated against female employees by paying them less than male employees who performed jobs of comparable value. (See Education Week, Nov.323, 1983.) The case is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Federation of State and Municipal Employees (afscme), which brought the suit against Washington under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has called the issue of comparable worth "the civil-rights issue of the 1980's."

In a prepared statement, afscme said that if President Reagan does not instruct the Justice Department to either support or oppose the afscme decision, "we can only assume he isn't sure whether or not he is opposed to sex discrimination or he doesn't want us to know how he feels until after the election."

"afscme believes that for millions of working women who could be affected by this case, a December surprise by the Reagan Administration is unacceptable," the statement said.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell announced last Friday that a competitive grant has been awarded to establish an educational-research laboratory in suburban Chicago.

The National Institute of Education, the department's research arm, will award between $6 million and $9 million over the next five years to the Educational Laboratory for Economic Development in the Midwest Inc. to operate the facility, Mr. Bell said.

The group includes the chief state school officers from the region, deans of Big 10 colleges of education and the University of Chicago, and the land-grant colleges and universities in the region.

Mr. Bell said the lab will focus on four areas: establishing effective schools; improving the use of technology in the classroom; improving the selection and use of textbooks; and upgrading the teaching of higher-order skills, such as reasoning, comprehension, logic, and problem solving.

The lab, Mr. Bell said, will develop training materials and programs and conduct much of its work in classroom settings.

The facility, named the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, will serve Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, a region that contains 20 percent of the nation's school-age population, according to the department.

Manuel J. Justiz, director of the nie, said that a panel has been formed to help select a 21-member board of directors for the center. The board will then select a director for the facility. Mr. Bell said the department will conclude several more grant competitions this year and next year in an attempt to establish eventually 22 similar research laboratories and centers.

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