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The Education Department's office for civil rights last week announced that it may re-examine 14 states' efforts to desegregate their systems of higher education.

The O.C.R. published a notice in the Jan. 31 Federal Register stating that it will "take appropriate action'' if it receives information that a state has not met its "affirmative duty'' to eliminate all vestiges of prior discrimination.

The notice says the O.C.R. "will strictly scrutinize state proposals to close or merge traditionally or historically black institutions.''

The office will use the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision in U.S. v. Fordice, which held that the states' adoption of race-neutral policies was not sufficient and that they had a duty to eliminate all vestiges of segregation from their higher-education systems.

The O.C.R. notice applies not only to Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia--the six states whose higher-education systems are still under official scrutiny--but also to eight states that were found to be in compliance with federal law during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Those states are Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Norma V. Cantu, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said the notice does not mean all the closed cases will be reopened immediately, or at all. Pending states' situations will be examined first.

"We have a very large caseload, but we felt obligated to make sure all states met their obligations under Fordice,'' she said.

Earthquake Relief: The House last week passed a $9.8 billion emergency-spending bill that would provide $1.1 billion for education-related earthquake relief.

HR 3759, which was adopted by a vote of 337 to 54, would provide $845 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to repair and rebuild schools damaged by last month's quake in Los Angeles.

It would also reallocate $165 million in impact-aid dollars for such expenses as busing students to alternative school sites, food service, and counseling. It is also expected to cushion the blow to school districts that will lose property-tax revenue as a result of the temblor.

The bill would also provide $80 million in Pell Grants for displaced students or workers who have lost their jobs.

Normally, emergency measures such as HR 3759 do not need to be offset by spending cuts. But lawmakers voted to trim the fiscal 1994 budget by $2.5 billion to pay for some of the relief. The measure does not include any Education Department program cuts.

Goals-Panel Director: The National Education Goals Panel has a new executive director.

Ken Nelson, who served as a member of the Minnesota House from 1973 to 1993, will take over from the panel's acting executive director, Marty Orland.

Mr. Nelson was the author of many of Minnesota's education-reform measures, including performance-based graduation standards and school-to-work programs.

Homelessness Prevention: Social programs other than those geared specifically toward the homeless should play a broader role in preventing and addressing homelessness, a Congressional task force recommends.

A report issued last week by the Speaker's Task Force on Homelessness, launched a year ago by Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley at the request of President Clinton, acknowledges that the Steward B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act has supported valuable demonstration and transitional programs for the homeless.

But it argues that other federal and state programs in housing, human services, education, and job training "need to be more responsible and responsive'' to the "root causes'' of homelessness.

Besides urging reforms in welfare, food stamps, child care, and Head Start programs, the report suggests ways education programs can better serve children and adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Information on the report, "Speaker's Task Force on Homelessness: Findings and Recommendations,'' can be obtained from the chairman of the task force, Rep. Bruce F. Vento, 2304 Rayburn, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.

Disabled Children: Health-reform legislation must specifically address the needs of children with disabilities, especially Medicaid-eligible children, argues Allan I. Bergman, the director of state-federal relations for the United Cerebral Palsy Associations.

Speaking last week at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights, Mr. Bergman said that the Clinton Administration's proposed "health security act'' lacks sufficient language on how the bill would affect children with disabilities who receive benefits under Medicaid, which pays for some medically related special-education costs.

As it is written, the legislation potentially "pulls the rug out from under'' school districts and other agencies that bill Medicaid for some services, Mr. Bergman said.

Jeri A. Logemann, the president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, asked the committee to address the lack of services for children with congenital and developmental communication disorders. ASHA also advocates hearing testing for every infant.

"It is well established that early identification of hearing loss will reduce costly services later in school,'' said Ms. Logemann. "We continue to hear reports that hearing loss is not detected until [children] reach school, when they're already years behind.''

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