Federal File: Searching for Research; Bowing To The Federal Will; Shrinking Federal Aid; Calling For Support; Reading Is Fundamental;

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Filling Committee Slots

The National Institute of Education has formally begun searching for new educational laboratories and centers on which to spend part of its $55-million annual budget, beginning in 1985.

The institute was previously required by Congressional mandate to support projects conducted by 17 specific laboratories and centers around the country.

In kicking off the new competition for the funds, the institute is planning to conduct meetings in 22 locations around the country to determine what kinds of research organizations are needed.

The 17 currently funded organizations have responded by circulating a recent opinion survey, conducted by the Education Department, of educators' and state education officials' attitudes toward them. The surveyors found mixed responses, ranging from a determination that regional laboratories are considered "especially responsive" to small school districts, to another finding of "negative and pessimistic" attitudes toward the impact of educational research and development on schools. Previously, more scholarly evaluations of the organizations also found their results mixed.

Nevertheless, the labs and centers are unlikely to "pass up the opportunity" to compete for funds they previously obtained through Congressional contacts, according to Joseph Schneider, their principal lobbyist in Washington. A coalition of more than 22 national education groups that support the open competition have also responded.

The groups, led by the American Educational Research Association, have drawn up a set of principles that they say are necessary to ensure that the new research organizations are chosen fairly.

Bowing to the Federal Will

The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an independent research agency created by the Congress, has cited federal special-education, rehabilitation-services, and family-rights laws and regulations as among the most costly mandates affecting state and local governments.

In a study of federal policies, the commission said 37 major laws--which require states to "bow to the federal will"--had created sometimes cumbersome demands on other units of government.

Among other things, the commission recommended that the federal government should pay the costs incurred by state and local governments in carrying out the laws.

In the absence of full funding of the mandates, the commission said, the federal government's power to withhold funds when the laws are violated should be limited.

Shrinking Federal Aid

In another recent analysis, the commission found that federal aid to state and local governments declined from $94.8 billion in fiscal year 1981 to $88.8 billion in fiscal year 1982, largely due to the enactment of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981.

Although the commission did not chart the specific course of spending for programs administered by the Education Department, it found that spending for child-nutrition programs--including the school-lunch program--fell by $490 million in the one-year period. (The federal education budget, according to the department's budget office, fell from $14.8 billion to $14.7 billion between 1981 and 1982.) The commission's report--which is based on Federal Aid to States, an annual report of the Treasury Department--said the decline in the level of federal aid was the first since 1955.

Calling for Support

Two U.S. senators have responded to the recent report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education by calling for more support--one, from the federal government, and the other, from the nation's businesses.

Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Republican of Connecticut, criticized the $425-million federal science and mathematics initiative as "scraps" in an address to representatives of his state's teachers' unions.

"All these proposals amount to little more than a light meal when what public education really needs is a steady diet of federal funds and fervor," he said.

Senator Paul E. Tsongas, Democrat of Massachusetts, told an audience of honor-society students in Boston that he hoped "every high school could have a corporate godfather."

"If you don't have a school system to compete with the Japanese," he said, "no one is going to work."

Reading Is Fundamental

In a preliminary analysis of research from a four-year study of the federal compensatory-education program, a researcher for Advanced Technology Inc. in McLean, Va., found that schools facing federal budget reductions cut elementary-school reading instruction only as a last resort.

The analysis by Richard Apling of 1,300 school districts is part of the federally funded Title I District Practices Survey. (Title I is now known as Chapter 1.)

Mr. Apling found that districts that experienced budget cuts first reduced spending for equipment purchases, operations and maintenance, administration, and auxiliary services.

Next, they cut back on Title I programs for high-school or preschool students. Finally, they reduced spending for Title I mathematics programs. Elementary-level reading, the study found, is considered a "fundamental service" of Title I.

Filling Committee Slots

The House leadership recently assigned two new members to the Education and Labor Committee.

The new Democrat on the committee is Representative Gary Ackerman of New York. He replaces former Representative Harold Washington of Illinois, who left the House following his election as mayor of Chicago.

Representative Howard Nielson of Utah is the new Republican on the committee.

The Democrats have yet to fill two vacant positions on the full committee. The Republicans, meanwhile, are still one member short.

--Tom Mirga and Eileen White

Vol. 02, Issue 35

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