Urban School Officials Unite Against Cuts in Federal Aid

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Washington--Representatives of 28 of the nation's largest school districts came here last week to convince federal officials and members of Congress that proposed cuts in federal aid to education next year would cripple urban schools.

The officials, members of the Council of the Great City Schools's legislative policy committee, found, however, that their lobbying efforts were not equally well-received in all political camps.

"The Democrats welcomed us with open arms, but the Republicans only smiled at us," Omar Blair, vice president of the council and a member of the Denver school board, said of his visits to Capitol Hill.

Other council members joked about U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell's cancellation of a meeting with them so that he could represent President Reagan at the launching of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Board the Space Shuttle

"The Secretary has taken a lot of heat about the President's budget proposals recently," said Michael Casserly, the council's legislative analyst. "We were wondering whether or not he got on board [the space shuttle] to get away from it all."

Secretary Bell and other Education Department (ed) officials have recently borne the brunt of mounting criticism surrounding the President's decision to ask for cuts totaling $4.9 billion in federal aid to education next year.

Three weeks ago, members of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (National pta) came to Washington to express their displeasure with the proposed cuts. A week later, more than 1,000 supporters of Title I aid to disadvantaged children followed them here to argue against further cuts in the program.

Last week it was the council's turn, and its members went to Congressional offices well-armed with position papers and detailed analyses describing precisely how much money each of their school districts would lose next year should the Administration's proposals become law.

Large Stake in Budget Battle

A recent analysis prepared by the group on the effects of the Administration's budget proposals on urban schools indicates that the organization's members have much at stake in the current budget battle.

According to the report, school districts belonging to the council receive about 59 percent of their combined federal revenue from ed, the rest coming from other federal agencies. Under the current continuing resolution for fiscal 1982, the districts' revenues from ed would total $827 million. That figure would drop to $593 million in fiscal 1983 under the President's budget proposal, according to the analysis.

"The current recession is making it doubly difficult for city schools to raise local revenues and will make it less likely that the local business communities could take up any of the shortfall," the report said. "[Federal] cutbacks in areas that at first appear unrelated to urban schools are converging on them in a fashion that spells disaster for the quality of education in our metropolitan areas."

'New Federalism'

In Portland, Ore., "the combined effort of the 'new federalism,' which appears to be sending responsibility to the states without the attendant dollars, has resulted in the inability of the state government to maintain even its present commitment to education," Forrest N. Rieke, a member of the city's school board, said at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education.

"Our state legislature, not unlike the current Administration, has chosen to drop the responsibility downstairs without the necessary dollars," he continued. "We simply don't have the resources at either the local or state levels to pick up lost federal dollars."

According to Mr. Rieke, the Portland school district's federal revenues dropped by 19 percent in fiscal 1981 from the previous year. Under the current continuing resolution, the city's schools would experience a combined two-year loss of 40 percent of its federal dollars.

"The Administration's fiscal 1983 budget cripples us even more," he said. "Those children with special problems will still be there, and we have no money for them."

Mr. Reike pointed out, as did other council members who testified before the subcommittee, that the recently created education block grant is causing urban schools a great degree of concern.

Spirit of the Law

He said that although he agrees with the spirit of decreased federal control under the new law, "flexibility at the expense of the loss of needed services is not helpful."

"I believe Portland and other ma-jor urban areas across the country will lose in the block-grant process, " Mr. Reike said. "It is a fact of life that when statewide formulas are devised for allocating resources, urban districts generally lose. We are outnumbered by nonurban populations."

Richard R. Green, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, also criticized recent reductions in the Agriculture Department's school-lunch program.

"I am sure that you have heard others say that a hungry child does not learn," Mr. Green told the subcommittee. "That child does learn to be bitter, to be hostile, to reject those around him, and to 'drop out' while still occupying a desk in a clasroom. That student does not learn what the schools are responsible to teach."

According to Lee McMurrin, president of the council and superintendent of the Milwaukee school district, "The 'new federalism' will undoubtedly hurt the nation's cities."

"In our city, for example, we received $15 million in Title I funds in fiscal 1981," Mr. McMurrin explained. "According to the Administration, that figure drops down to $11 million in the current fiscal year, next year it drops to $8 million, and the year after that $6 million.

Reduction in Services

"With a 10-percent annual inflation rate, there is no way that we can avoid a reduction in services," he continued. "The notion that states will pick up the slack is foolish. States have never performed kindly to cities; they have always been willing to draw revenues off from them, but have never been willing to put revenues back in."

"The people in control of the government today get the word from the Moral Majority and law-and-order types that it's all right to treat the disadvantaged without dignity," said Mr. Blair of the Denver school board."They had better remember that nothing lasts forever."

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