Federal File

March 13, 2002 1 min read

Guiding Missive

Maybe it was just an oversight.

But the omission last month of civil rights language in a draft “guidance” document from the Department of Education elicited a stern response from 30 education, labor, religious, and civil rights groups.

The 43-page guidance will provide an application road map for those seeking 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, used primarily to run before- and after-school programs. Previously, school districts controlled the federal grants.

But under the “No Child Left Behind” Act, states will pass out the federal money directly, and religious entities will be eligible to apply. Given that, Democrats pushed late in talks over the law to insert language assuring that groups won’t discriminate in deciding whom to hire or to admit. Republicans, meanwhile, were worried about scaring off faith-based groups that might want to participate.

Republicans agreed finally to put the language into the law—"reluctantly,” according to a Democratic House staff aide. A GOP aide said some Democratic versions would have added three pages. The final provision, just one paragraph, stipulates that nothing in the bill “should be construed to permit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex [except as otherwise permitted under Title IX ... ] national origin, or disability.”

Those words didn’t make it into the draft issued Feb. 18. That was no accident, some said.

“If these [faith-based] groups know you can’t discriminate, they may not be interested in applying,” said Dan Katz, the director of legislative affairs for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. On March 1, Mr. Katz’s group and 29 others fired off a letter asking that the civil rights provision appear in the guidance.

Department spokesman Dan Langan said the agency will consider the request. Asked why the language was omitted, Mr. Langan said only that its inclusion in the law means that all programs fall under its requirements.

—Ben Wear

A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2002 edition of Education Week