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E.D. Owes Rhode Island Agency $2.7 Million, Judge Rules

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A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Education Department owes $2.7 million to a Rhode Island agency that guarantees student loans.

U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres said in a decision released Oct. 26 that the department broke a contract with the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority when it withheld the money to comply with a 1987 federal deficit-reduction law.

Judge Torres did not address questions of constitutionality and due process.

The Rhode Island decision is the latest in a series relating to the federal department's implementation of a decision that required loan-guarantee agencies to reduce their reserves.

While some guarantee agencies have received favorable rulings at the district-court level, they have not been successful in the federal appellate courts or upon appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court last month declined to hear appeals from five guarantee agencies.

Education Department officials have not seen the ruling and declined to comment, a spokesman said.

The two teachers' unions in Florida have met to discuss the ground rules for holding formal talks on merging the two organizations, officials of the two organizations said.

In a joint announcement, the presidents of the Florida Education Association/United and Florida Teaching Profession-National Education Association said they believe "the financial and substantive issues confronting public education in Florida require a more concerted approach to public policy."

The possibility of merging the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers at the national level arose at both unions' conventions last summer. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

Some observers have suggested that state organizations will be encouraged to merge as a prelude to national merger.

Jeff Wright, president of the F.T.P.-N.E.A., said he had "no idea" whether the talks will actually lead to merger of the two organizations. "We're way, way, away from any substantive discussion," Mr. Wright added.

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