Black Children Seen Prime Victims of Budget Cuts

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The educational gains and social "well-being" of black children, a large majority of whom attend urban schools, would be eroded under the Reagan Administration's "new federalism" initiative, according to a strongly-worded report released last week by an advocacy group for black children.

More specifically, the President's latest round of budget cuts would mean the elimination of services to about 235,000 inner-city children, charged another report drawn up by a coalition of 28 urban school systems that serve over 5 million students--three-quarters of whom are members of minority groups.

The two reports agreed that the loss of federal support--both financial and administrative--would be particularly devastating to urban schools and to the large numbers of minority students they educate.

The Administration's proposals to "swap" Medicaid for other social-welfare programs and to "turn back" about 40 federally supported programs to the states "presents one of the greatest threats to black communities since the onset of Jim Crow and mandatory segregation," said Evelyn K. Moore, executive director of the Washington-based National Black Child Development Institute (nbcdi).

'Minimum Standard' Denied

"In a single stroke, the Administration has declared that the federal government, the collective voice of all Americans, should not strive to create and ensure a minimum standard of well-being for all Americans who lack the opportunities most citizens take for granted," Ms. Moore asserts in "Budget Cuts and Black Children," a response to the Administration's 1983 budget proposal.

According to the report, which examines the impact of the budget rescissions in education, welfare, day care, and child-nutrition programs, 42 percent of the nation's black children live "in a cycle of poverty" that would continue for many of them if it were not for government assistance to "equalize their opportunities."

The Administration's plans to dismantle the Education Department, to consolidate a wide range of programs into block grants, and to modify existing regulations governing special education, compensatory education, and vocational education would leave the disproportionate number of black children who are currently being served by those programs unprotected, the nbcdi report states.

Many more thousands of black children would be completely cut off from receiving services because of the budget cuts, it asserts.

The proposed rescissions in education threaten equal opportunities for black children in particular, according to the report, because education "has always been regarded by black families as the principal vehicle by which black children stand a chance of improving their lives.''

The "unprecedented" increase in the number of black students who have attended school and have received a high-school diploma "marks a definite advance for the future prospects of black children," the nbcdi report states.

However, it adds, black children "still trail white students in education opportunities."

In addition to relating the advocacy group's objections to the Administration's budget, the report examines specific changes to the following programs and the impact of these changes:

Title I. Black children represent 34 percent of the five million children currently being served by Title I, the "highly successful" compensatory-education program which would be cut almost in half by 1983. ''Continued reductions in Title I will virtually eliminate it as a means to narrow the gap" between black and white students, according to the report.

Nationally, an estimated 900,000 eligible black children would not receive remedial tutoring in reading and mathematics, it says.

Special education. Black children are more likely than whites to be placed in special-education programs, and, once there, are more likely to be sent to classrooms for the educable mentally retarded, the report asserts. "In spite of the enactment of laws for the education of handicapped children, substantial evidence indicates that discrimination and poor assessment, not coincidence or student failure, account for the huge disparity in placement," the report says.

Black students are more than three times as likely as white students to be misdiagnosed in special-education classes, it continues. In 1978-79, black children represented 41 percent of all "educable mentally retarded" students (an 8-percent increase from the previous two years) despite the fact that black students only represented 17 percent of the student population nationwide.

The report asserts that there should be "stronger enforcement by the federal government" of laws for the handicapped. Instead, it says, the Administration proposes to weaken existing laws, and that would have "a devastating impact on black handicapped children."

Vocational education. With the unemployment rate of black youths "at an all-time high," the proposal to combine adult education and vocational education would pit these two segments against each other in competition for "shrunken dollars" and "cause havoc within the black communities" across the country, according to the report.

Moreover, it claims, the elimination of "set-asides" for minority concerns and federal requirements for state and local advisory councils would lead to the exclusion of minorities from training programs and from the decision-making process.

Head Start. Of the 375,000 low-income children served by the preschool program, 42 percent are black, according to the report. "For the black community, Head Start continues to be a bulwark for those low-income black families working toward self-sufficiency and the 148,000 black children whose futures depend on the educational, social, health, and nutrition services provided."

However, under the Administration's proposal, the program would be adversely affected by funding reductions for Medicaid, food stamps, Title XX day care, and child nutrition and by the elimination of the Community Services Administration, which represents 59 percent of all Head Start "grantees."

The report explained that 90 percent of the Head Start children are from poor families who would not be able to pay for health care, nutritional needs, or day care services if funding is reduced for these programs.

Child nutrition. The report estimates that about three million black children rely on the public schools, and another one million depend on day-care programs, to pro-vide from one-third to one-half of their nutritional needs. Yet, the Administration is proposing to cut funding and tighten income eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches provided at schools and day-care centers. Fewer "high-risk" black children would be able to participate, the report says.

In all, the report concludes that the Administration's "double-barrel initiatives" jeopardize the future health, development, well-being, and safety of black children in the nation while ignoring "the fundamental facts that such 'trickle down' growth rarely helps the poor."

Bleak Outlook

The bleak outlook presented in the nbcdi report is largely sup-ported by a separate report on the impact of the Administration's budget on urban school systems, which rely more heavily on federal revenues than the average district. Federal funds account for about 16 percent of the larger urban districts' budgets, while the national average is about 8 percent.

The Council of the Great City Schools recently reported that its member-districts would lose about $234 million next year--the equivalent of 28 percent of the total amount of federal support they receive.

"Of the 5 million students in these 28 systems, 30 percent live below the poverty line and 75 percent are members of minority groups," according to the Council's report.

Vol. 01, Issue 24

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