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Federal aid for school construction in communities whose tax bases are diminished by the presence of federal property or workers is allocated on the basis of grossly outdated priorities and cost estimates, the General Accounting Office concludes in a new report.

The impact-aid program in question received about $15 million in the current fiscal year. The Education Department ranks projects on a list on the basis of need and funds those with the highest scores.

Because only a handful of projects are funded each year, most applications stay on the department's list for years before they rise to the top. Of 178 proposals on the waiting list in fiscal 1988, 122 had languished for at least 12 years, the g.a.o. found. Some applications had been filed as long ago as 1967.

Of 56 listed projects studied in depth by the g.a.o., 20 had already been completed and 10 more had been partially completed. In other cases, districts no longer had enough federally-connected children to be eligible for the program by the time they were in line for funding.

In addition, because the law requires some awards to be based on cost estimates at the time of application, many projects are underfunded, the g.a.o. concluded.

Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Adams Case

A federal appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a 20-year-old, landmark lawsuit that had forced the Education Department to enforce civil rights laws more vigorously.

U.S. District Judge John Pratt dismissed the case, then known as Adams v. Bennett, in late 1987. He ruled that a 1984 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a different lawsuit that limited the right of citizens to sue government agencies for stronger enforcement of laws had left the Adams plaintiffs without legal standing to sue. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1988.)

Judge Pratt had previously issued a series of judicial orders that commanded the department to force southern states to desegregate colleges and universities. The judge also imposed enforcement procedures and timetables for complaint investigations by the department's office for civil rights.

The civil-rights groups that had pressed the case appealed Judge Pratt's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court ruled in 1989 that the students represented by the groups did have standing to sue, and it scheduled further arguments in the case, now known as Women's Eq Action League v. Cavazos.

Last month, however, the appeals court decided that under legal precedents established since the original 1973 Adams decision, civil-rights laws do not "authorize the continuing, across-the-board federal court superintendence of executive enforcement plaintiffs seek," particularly when the alternative of suing offending schools and colleges exists.

The plaintiffs no longer seek federal action in particular cases, which would be permissible, the court ruled. Rather, they are seeking general judicial supervision of o.c.r. The Congress is empowered to authorize that type of intervention, the court held, but thus far has not.

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