E.D. Defers to Congress on Rules

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Washington--Yielding to Congressional pressure, the Education Department has accepted the right of Congress to review and, if it deems necessary, to veto regulations for Chapters 1 and 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell made that announcement in publishing a revised set of final regulations for the two programs in the Nov. 19 Federal Register.

Last July, the department published its first set of final regulations for the old Title I and new education block-grant programs, stating that the Congress stripped itself of its regulatory review and veto rights when it passed the law creating Chapters 1 and 2 during the summer of 1981. (See Education Week, August 18, 1982.)

This happened, the department argued, because Congress did not expressly state that the General Education Provisions Act (gepa) was fully applicable to the new law. gepa guarantees the Congress's right to review and veto federal education regulations within 45 days of their publication.

The department's interpretation of gepa's inapplicability to Chapters 1 and 2 raised considerable protest in the Congress. Both the House and Senate, within one week of the regulation's publication in the Federal Register on July 29, voted to veto the new rules, largely as a result of the dispute over gepa's ap-plicability to the programs.

That act threw the legal status of the new regulations into doubt. In effect, the Congress took action that the Reagan Administration said it had no right to take. Congressional and department staff members alike predicted shortly after the veto that the matter might have to be settled in court if agreement could not be reached on the question of gepa's applicability to Chapters 1 and 2.

In the Nov. 19 announcement, Secretary Bell said the department's original stance on the gepa issue was taken because the Administration wanted to keep state and local school officials "as free as possible from the imposition of detailed and sometimes conflicting" fiscal reporting requirements under gepa Such requirements, he said, "would decrease the flexibility and increase the burden of" state and local officials in carrying out their responsibilities under the programs.

'Continuing Controversy'

Mr. Bell said his agency was switching its stance because "continuing controversy over the issue of gepa applicability" to the programs would impair the smooth and efficient implementation of Chapters 1 and 2.

John F. Jennings, counsel to the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, said last week that House leaders are now studying the new set of final regulations, paying close attention to the sections regarding gepa's applicability.

Although he said that "the general feeling here is that the department acted well on the gepa issue," he did not discount the possibility that the new regulations, or certain sections within the regulations, might be disapproved for other reasons.

Possible areas of conflict could include:

Parental involvement. The old Title I program mandated that parent advisory committees be established at schools where Title I funds were spent. The new Chapter 1 regulations do not include such a requirement, much to the consternation of many Congressmen, Senators, and parents-rights advocates.

Evaluations. The new Chapter 1 regulations require local education agencies to evaluate their programs in terms of their effectiveness in meeting predetermined goals, but do not specify that the evaluations be conducted in a standardized fashion.

Advocates of increased funding for Chapter 1 have noted that under the old Title I program standardized reporting techniques at the local level resulted in efficient and comprehensive state reports. Those, in turn, provided "good ammunition" when it came time for the department and the Congress to set spending figures for the program.

Nonregulatory guidance. A number of state and local officials have complained about the high degree of flexibility that the Chapter 1 and 2 regulations grant them. While applauding the flexibility on one hand, the officials also have expressed concerns that a few years from now federal auditors may cite them for misspending funds that they thought were spent in a proper fashion.

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