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Changes made to the federal student-loan program during the 1992 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act have dramatically increased the number of loans made and the amount of dollars distributed, Education Department data show.

Statistics compiled by the department indicate that loan guarantors made more than 2.6 million loans between Oct. 1, 1993, and March 31, 1994, which represents the first two quarters of fiscal 1994.

During the same period in fiscal 1993, guarantors made more than two million loans. The change represents a 27.4 percent increase in the number of loans made.

An even higher percentage change, 53.5 percent, was recorded in loan volume. In the first half of the current fiscal year, guarantors distributed more than $366 million, compared with more than $238 million in the first half of fiscal 1993.

Department officials attribute the differences to changes Congress made to the laws governing the Federal Family Education Loan program, which includes several types of loans to both students and parents.

The 1992 law created a new program that provides unsubsidized loans to families and students who do not meet the income requirements for federal subsidies. It also increased the amount that students could borrow and lifted borrowing caps on loans to parents.

Free Lunch: Pilot programs under which all students in a school received free, federally subsidized meals reduced administrative costs and increased student participation, according to the General Accounting Office.

Schools participating in the pilot efforts--in Jersey City, N.J.; National City and Salinas, Calif.; and Philadelphia--did not have to determine which students qualified for subsidies based on their family incomes.

Philadelphia administrators estimated that they saved about $32,000 each year by avoiding the burdensome application process.

Schools also reported that reducing administrative work has allowed staff members to spend more time on nutrition education and meal planning.

During the first two years of the three-year experiment, which began with the 1991-92 school year, average daily lunch participation increased by 10 percent. Food-service managers said that eliminating the stigma attached to obtaining free or reduced-price meals was largely responsible.

Copies of "Early Results of U.S.D.A.'s No-Fee School Meal Pilot Program'' are available from the G.A.O., P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20884-6015; (202) 512-6000. The first copy is free; additional copies are $2 each.

Child-Care Coordination: The Health and Human Services Department has proposed regulations that aim to foster consistency among federally funded child-care programs and help states improve child-care quality and better serve working families.

The proposed new rules, published in the May 11 Federal Register, apply to the child-care block grant and to programs providing child-care aid to families on welfare, families at risk of going on welfare, and families making the transition from welfare to work.

The rules would require that all children served under the block grant be immunized.

States would be given more flexibility to set payment rates under the block grant that offer incentives for programs to become licensed. Under the welfare-related programs, states could set higher rates than are now allowable for programs that meet special criteria, such as accreditation or teacher credentials, set by states.

The rules would improve consistency among programs in setting parent fees and providing child care during gaps in employment. States would also be allowed to offer temporary child care to families that voluntarily leave welfare.

The proposals also aim to promote more flexibility, in keeping with federal disability laws, in setting payment rates for programs serving special-needs children.

Comments are due by July 11.

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