Bennett's Chapter 1 Proposal Criticized
WASHINGTON--House Democrats last week accused Secretary of Education William J. Bennett of attempting to limit the cost of the Chapter 1 program by portraying it as a "poverty program'' that should concentrate on the neediest students.
Mr. Bennett told the House Education and Labor Committee that although Chapter 1 is "a reasonably good program, modestly successful, it could be more so.'' While 60 percent of children now receiving Chapter 1 assistance are not poor, he said, some of the students most in need of its compensatory educational services are not receiving them.
An Education Department proposal for reauthorization of Chapter 1, he said, incorporates provisions intended to target services more effectively to children who are both economically and educationally disadvantaged.
But Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who is chairman of the committee, responded that the program, since its inception in 1965, has served children who are either educationally or economically disadvantaged, not necessarily both.
"You're trying to reduce the number of children based on the amount of money you want to spend,'' Mr. Hawkins said. "It isn't a problem of targeting. If you want to do an adequate job, you'll determine how many [disadvantaged] children there are and then make a [funding] recommendation.''
If ineligible children are now receiving federal assistance, Mr. Hawkins added, it is up to the Education Department to enforce current law and regulations.
And Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, told Mr. Bennett: "You've got a lot of people confused [into believing] that what we have here is a poverty program that's somehow gotten away from poor people.''
In fact, Mr. Ford said, he had helped draft the original law--then known as Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--as a "general education program.''
"If you didn't have in mind the poor, you should have,'' Mr. Bennett replied. He noted that the Reagan Administration has proposed to increase the Chapter 1 budget by $200 million next year, while seeking cuts in most other education accounts. About 90 percent of school districts now qualify for assistance under the $3.9-billion program.
The department's bill, expected to be introduced soon by Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, would address the targeting issue in four ways:
- "Concentration grants,'' equivalent to 5 percent of available funds each year for basic Chapter 1 grants, would go to school districts with at least 5,000 children or 20 percent of enrollment from poor homes, a formula intended to cover both the urban and rural poor.
- Grants would be allocated based on the enrollment of poor children above 2 percent of the total number of children in a county, rather than simply on the number of poor children. The effect would be to favor districts with a higher proportion of students in poverty.
- Most districts would have to limit compensatory programs to the poorest one-third of their schools, a provision aimed at keeping Chapter 1 allocations from being diluted among many programs.
- All children would be chosen for the program in order of educational need; only a portion of students are now selected that way.
Bruce M. Carnes, the department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, said those provisions would remove funding inequities between school districts. For example, he said, in affluent areas children often receive Chapter 1 services, but children at the same educational and economic level in poor districts do not, because there are more children to serve.
Representative James M. Jeffords of Vermont, the Education and Labor panel's ranking Republican, questioned whether the new formulas would cause dislocations in many school districts as the program began to "unserve some groups to better serve others.''
Mr. Carnes insisted that no district would lose its eligibility for Chapter 1 funding, but he acknowledged that some districts would lose in their amount of funding, while others would gain.
A bipartisan measure, HR 950, sponsored by Mr. Hawkins and Representative William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania, would also provide for concentration grants for districts with large numbers of poor children. But it would provide such subsidies as a separate account, rather than as a percentage of basic grants.
Several Democrats also engaged the department officials in a recurrent debate over the federal role in funding education.
Representative Pat Williams of Montana disputed Mr. Bennett's earlier testimony during House Budget Committee hearings that Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined steadily over a period of increasing federal expenditures for education.
In fact, Mr. Williams said, scores increased for children who entered school in the 1960's, around the time the Congress decided to invest in Chapter 1 and other assistance to education. He suggested there may be "a correlation between the upturn of test scores and those innovative programs.''
But Mr. Carnes countered that 147 studies the department had reviewed indicated that there was little or no correlation.
And Mr. Bennett said: "You don't need a federal program for every educational problem. More federal programs don't mean better educational results. We can show that every year.''