Private-School Pupils Chapter 2 Winners, Urban Schools Losers, Study Confirms
Washington--Initial results of a major Education Department evaluation of the Chapter 2 block-grants program confirm what many education groups have previously argued--that private-school students have benefited substantially from the program, while school districts that had received federal desegregation aid were big losers.
"In almost every case, there is significantly more money available for services to private-school students under Chapter 2 than there was under the former categorical programs," according to preliminary findings from the evaluation.
But it also found that school officials are generally pleased with the flexibility of the block-grant funds, which have often provided the seed money for innovative local projects.
The two-year, $250,000 study was conducted by the Washington firm E.H. White and Co. under a contract with the National Institute of Education and the Education Department's office of planning, budget, and evaluation.
A new study by the General Accounting Office--the investigative arm of the Congress--also found that district officials were satisfied with the block-grants program. But there is no consensus among state officials on whether block grants are preferable to categorical funding, according to the gao.
The E.H. White study's finding that private-school students are winners under Chapter 2 contrasts with a recent report by ed's office of planning, budget, and evaluation that private-school students often do not receive an equitable share of Chapter 2 funds to which the block-grant law entitles them. (See Education Week, Oct. 24, 1984.)
The earlier report was prepared, department officials said, to respond to outside studies--by the American Association of School Administrators, for example--that criticized as disproportionally high the amount of Chapter 2 dollars spent for private-school students.
A preliminary summary of the E.H White study said districts receiving desegregation aid under the Emergency School Assistance Act, which was rolled into the block grant, "represent the largest group of districts losing federal funds under Chapter 2."
Detroit, for example, lost $1.5 million in the change from the categorical programs to the block grants, according to Philip Kearney, an education professor at the University of Michigan who participated in the study.
The findings are based on case studies of Chapter 2 implementation in nine states. Researchers did not perform any new data collection but relied primarily on interviews with state and local officials, according to Regina M.J. Kyle of E.H. White, who coordinated the study.
Programs Merged in 1981
The Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 merged some 30 categorical programs into block grants to states, which receive the federal funds on the basis of enrollment figures.
The state educational agencies may keep up to 20 percent of the funds for administrative purposes, then distribute the rest to local educational agencies, using formulas that take into account enrollment and ''high-cost factors."
The Congress appropriated $532-million for Chapter 2 in the current fiscal year. The fiscal 1980 appropriContinued on Page XX
Private-School Pupils Benefit Under Chapter 2
Continued from Page 12
ation for all the categorical programs that were consolidated into the block grant totaled $805 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"Even among districts that lost money under the consolidation, the increased flexibility and local control of decisions about funds make Chapter 2 more attractive to them than the prior categoricals," the preliminary E.H. White report said.
According to the studies, school districts appear to spend a substantial portion of their Chapter 2 money on computers and computer-related materials.
The gao, which examined districts in 13 states as part of its continuing monitoring of the implementation of block grants, found that the districts spent 51 percent of their block-grant money for instructional materials; that amount included the average 24 percent of the total that officials spent on computers.
Twenty-eight percent of the money was allocated to salaries, the gao found.
Important 'Seed Money'
Although districts often receive a relatively small amount of Chapter 2 funds, the nie-sponsored researchers noted, many "see the Chapter 2 funds as providing important 'money at the margin'--funds they can use as seed money for new developments," for example.
Among the innovative uses of the Chapter 2 money cited are teacher-training programs and direct services to students, such as a writing clinic and a Japanese-language program.
State education agencies are uncertain how to monitor and evaluate the Chapter 2 program, particularly since the federal government has offered little guidance, the E.H. White preliminary summary notes.
But in almost all of the nine states studied, state agencies used a high percentage of their share for projects that were begun under the old categorical programs or that they considered important--including ''priority positions" in the state agencies and technical-support positions in district offices throughout the state.
Some of the more innovative uses of state set-aside funds included a $200,000 competitive-grant program in school discipline and grants to districts to improve basic-skills and computer-training programs.
The gao investigators reported that four out of 11 state education officials who expressed an opinion preferred the previous approach to the block grants; they criticized funding cuts and their loss of control over how lea's spend the money.
'Too Early' To Assess
At a two-day symposium last month sponsored by the nie and the Education Department to discuss the preliminary findings offered by the E.H. White report, experts concluded that implementation of the program has been generally successful, although substantial questions persist about its purpose, effect, and future.
"It is really too early in the implementation of Chapter 2 to have useful data on the impact of the funding on students," the preliminary report states. "Given the amounts of money in question in many districts, it will be very difficult to trace this impact in a meaningful way."
Noting that the lack of data makes it impossible to determine whether the block-grant approach actually improves students' education, Martin Katzman, who conducted the case study in Texas, said, "I don't think we've proven that [block grants] shouldn't be cut out" when the program is up for Congressional reauthorization in 1987.
Equity Problem Foreseen
At a panel discussion that closed the symposium, several researchers said they were concerned that the program, which they likened to a simple revenue-sharing scheme, might exacerbate inequities between school districts.
Richard Elmore, who wrote the case study of Washington State, speculated that the Congress might "re-regulate" the Chapter 2 program in the coming years, as it seeks to clarify the intent of the legislation.
The states studied were Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
Copies of the final synthesis of the case studies, which is scheduled for completion in early 1985, will be available from E.H. White and Co., Suite 710, 1025 Vermont Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.
The gao report is available free. To order a copy (report no. HRD-85-18), call (202) 275-6241.