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Block Grants Found To Achieve Aims

By James Hertling — July 08, 2019 3 min read


The Reagan Administration’s only major new education program—Chapter 2 block grants to states—has achieved its legislated purpose of increasing local discretion, promoting “equitable services” for private-school students, and generally reducing administrative costs, according to a summary of the first comprehensive national study of the program.

But Chapter 2 has set back school desegregation efforts, imposed a greater administrative burden on “very large” urban districts, and generally excluded parents from local decisionmaking, the report concludes. The $1-million study was completed for the Education Department by the consulting firm SRI International.

Chapter 2 money, the summary says, has contributed to increased spending in three areas—computer-based instruction, curriculum development, and staff development—and has stimulated innovation by providing “seed money” for new programs.

These conclusions generally confirm previous surveys of state and local spending under Chapter 2.

The summary that was made available to Education Week has been used in recent Congressional briefings and was distributed at a meeting of state Chapter 2 coordinators. The full report will be released in the next few weeks.

The new report “reinforces other studies,” said Anne Henderson, an associate with the National Committee for Citizens in Education who has monitored Chapter 2 since its implementation. “I haven’t found anything in it that’s surprising.”

Other reports on Chapter 2 have been done by the General Accounting Office, a Congressional agency; by the consulting firm E.H. White and Company, under contract to the National Institute of Education; and by the American Association of School Administrators.

Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 consolidated some 30 categorical programs into a single block grant to each state. The new law passed in the Congress months after Mr. Reagan took office, as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, the Administration’s major package of budget reductions.

The law mandates that each state establish a Chapter 2 advisory committee, which then devises a formula for distributing the money to local school districts.

The two-year SRI study, which will probably be used next year when the Congress must reauthorize the program, collected data during the 1984-1985 school year. Local school districts spent about $356 million in Chapter 2 funds that year; the total appropriation was $500 million.

According to the summary, some of the findings are:

  • The range of Chapter 2-funded services has broadened since the law’s implementation, following an initial emphasis by districts on computer-related spending.

    Still, 75 percent of districts surveyed spent some $99 million on computers in 1984-85. In other areas, 67 percent of the districts spent $97 million to support libraries and “media centers"; 25 percent spent $30 million on curriculum or program development; 25 percent spent $29 million on staff development; 17 percent spent $27 million on instructional services, and another 17 percent spent $25 million on student-support services.

  • Inner-city districts with more than 25,000 students lost “the largest amounts” in federal funding, largely because Chapter 2 consolidated the Emergency School Aid Act-which provided desegregation funds-into the block grant.

    But 75 percent of districts “tended to gain funds” under Chapter 2.

  • 42 percent of the districts have eligible private schools, and 88 percent of those districts provide services to private-school students.

    Private-school officials are satisfied with the services their students are receiving. In fact, per-pupil spending for private-school students has increased from pre-Chapter 2 levels, as has the proportion of districts’ allocations going to nonpublic schools.

    But increased private-school participation has added administrative duties for some urban districts.

  • Decisions about spending and implementation of Chapter 2-financed activities are generally made at the district and not the school-building level. Nearly half the districts reported no strong state influence in how they spend their money.
  • In about two-thirds of the districts, parents and citizens are not involved in the decisionmaking process, but “community preferences” appear to influence program decisions.

Parental involvement is the major element of Chapter 2 that has not met Administration goals, said Ms. Henderson. Decisions are typically made, she said, “by a small group of the central-office staff.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 1986 edition of Education Week


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