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Study Finds Felton Led to a Drop In Private Students in Chapter 1

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Washington--The percentage of private-school students in Chapter 1 programs has grown during the past four years, but it is still below the proportion served before the U.S. Supreme Court barred public schools from sending remedial teachers to religiously affiliated schools, a new report has found.

In the year after the High Court's 1985 decision in Aguilar v. Felton, the number of private-school students participating in Chapter 1 programs plummeted by 34 percent, the report by the U.S. General Accounting Office found.

According to the study, the number dropped from 185,000 to 123,000 as public-school officials scrambled to find new ways to provide compensatory services to disadvantaged private-school students.

By 1987-88, participation had increased to 142,000 students, still 23 percent below the 1985 pre-Felton level, the report states. And state officials estimate that the 1988-89 figures will increase to 151,000, or 16 percent below the 1985 level.

Public-school officials have developed a variety of ways to provide Chapter 1 services since the Supreme Court ruled that providing teachers at religious school sites violated the constitutional prohibition against the entanglement of government and religious institutions. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1988.)

The Congress later appropriated capital-expenditure funds for new methods of providing remedial services. According to the report, school districts have spent most of these funds on mobile vans. The money has also been spent on "neutral" sites, portable classrooms, and public schools, to which private students needing Chapter 1 services either walk or are bused.

In Los Angeles, the district has placed portable classrooms on property leased from the private schools to provide instruction. After experiencing a 98 percent decline in participation immediately after the court decision, the district's rate by 1988-89 had recovered to only 21 percent below the pre-Felton level.

Many districts have used computers to link public and private schools, even though the specially allocated federal funds cannot be used to pay for computer equipment.

The Philadelphia school district, for instance, has used computer-aided instruction to recover from a 52 percent decrease in private students in remedial programs in the year after the ruling to a 1988-89 level that puts it only 13 percent below pre-Felton participation.

Although public- and private-school officials remain dissatisfied that fewer students are being served, the report notes, they are content with the quality of service being provided.

The study, "Compensatory Education: Aguilar v. Felton Decision's Continuing Impact on Chapter 1 Program," is available from the gao, Post Office Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md., 20877.

--mw

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