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Rules on Magnet-School Funds Set

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Washington--The Education Department has issued final regulations for distributing $75 million in new federal money for magnet schools, a program the Administration tried to eliminate earlier this year.

The rules, which members of the Congress recently charged had been needlessly delayed, were published in the May 22 Federal Register.

To be eligible for grants of up to $4 million next year, school districts must have either: received $1 million less under Chapter 2 in fiscal 1982 than in 1981 under the Emergency School Aid Act, which was folded into the block grant; or be implementing a desegregation plan pursuant to a federal or state court order; or be implementing a voluntary desegregation plan approved by the Secretary of Education.

The department has estimated that about 1,000 school districts are eligible.

The Congress authorized the magnet-school grants as an amendment to the Education for Economic Security Act of 1984.

A bipartisan group of 43 senators had sent a letter to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett in April3to express concern that the department was moving too slowly in publishing regulations for the program. President Reagan had asked the Congress to rescind the $75 million it had approved late last year, but when the April 25 deadline passed without the requested rescission, the department was forced to release the funds.

The statute prohibits school districts from using the money to teach "secular humanism," but the department's rules do not define the term.

Anthony T. Podesta, executive director of the advocacy group People for the American Way, said in his comment on the proposed rules: "With a federal law that uses the term without defining it, the Department of Education is making local school districts vulnerable to attack from those who have a history of using the charge 'secular humanism' to oppose anything they don't like about public education."

More information on the regulations is available from M. Patricia Goins, Magnet Schools Task Force, Education Department, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202; (202) 245-7965.--jh

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