GOP, Schools Decry Clinton Plan To Cut Title VI Funds

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In the Centennial school district just north of Minneapolis, money from the federal Title VI block grant is helping administrators develop student assessments and train teachers to meet Minnesota's accountability requirements.

"It's helping us because we can apply it in areas where we're underfunded," said John McClellan, the superintendent of the 6,500-student district in Circle Pines, Minn. His school system has received about $38,000 in Title VI dollars this academic year.

The Title VI Innovative Education Program Strategies initiative, which offers grants for reform programs with little federal red tape attached, has become a hit with many schools and a favorite among congressional Republicans supportive of its reduced-bureaucracy theme. Title VI goes to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, which then channel all but 15 percent of the dollars to local districts.

"I have never met a single person in the school business who doesn't like this program," said Bruce Hunter, the senior associate executive director for the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va.

But in the budget plan he released this month, President Clinton proposed eliminating Title VI funding. His administration says the program--which receives $375 million in the current fiscal year--isn't effective. "The program is not well-designed to support the kinds of state and local efforts most likely to result in real improvements in teaching and learning," officials wrote in the Department of Education's fiscal 2000 budget proposal.

Reagan-Era Beginnings

At a Senate hearing last week, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced new plans for Title VI. The Education Department hopes to consolidate three programs--Title VI, Goals 2000, and Eisenhower professional-development grants--into an initiative to help states implement standards-based reform in classrooms and ensure high-quality teaching, he told lawmakers.

Title VI traces its roots to the Reagan era. In 1981, President Reagan pushed through a budget that consolidated 29 school programs--including an initiative to help districts implement desegregation orders-- into what was then called Chapter 2, the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act. The money was doled out to states for a wide variety of state and local reform projects, including desegregation initiatives. But the consolidated funding began to decrease significantly in the mid- to late-1980s and early 1990s.

In the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Chapter 2's purposes were expanded and states were allowed to retain only 15 percent, instead of 20 percent, of the federal money for administration and statewide programs. Congress also changed the name of the program to Title VI.

Once Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, the program began to see a resurgence in its funding, although it still hasn't matched the total funding that was consolidated to create Chapter 2 in 1981, said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups.

Today, the CEF's members like the flexibility that Title VI offers, but Mr. Kealy said he does have concerns that Republicans will try to use the program as the cornerstone of a new and much larger block grant. The CEF is not opposed to an education block grant as such, but its members worry that it could bring about a net decrease in federal dollars for schools.

According to the Education Department, the reasons for ending Title VI are clear. As the budget plan stated: "Evaluations ... concluded that the overall purpose of the program--supporting school reform--was not achieved because of the broad, vague, and overlapping nature of the activities eligible for funding."

But on Capitol Hill, some believe Mr. Clinton's reasons for wanting to abolish Title VI are more politically motivated than research-based.

"They've always hated [Title VI] because it gives local districts the opportunity to determine what they need," Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said during a recent briefing with reporters. "They will always try to eliminate any opportunity for local decisionmaking."

To help meet balanced-budget requirements, Mr. Clinton has consistently cut or given minimal increases to some programs, including Title VI, in order to find funding for new initiatives. "My guess is, that's the easiest cut [Clinton administration officials] make and the first cut they make," Mr. Hunter opined.

Congressional Republicans, though, have protected Title VI dollars.

Mr. Goodling said he also sees support for Title VI from congressional Democrats. One House Democratic aide, who asked not to be identified, disagreed, however. He said Democrats harbor ill feelings for the program because its funding has decreased significantly since the preconsolidation days before 1981 and its results cannot be evaluated effectively. Democrats will support the Education Department's plan to merge it with Goals 2000 and the Eisenhower grants, the aide said.

School administrators' groups, the CEF, and others plan to lobby this year to maintain Title VI.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, calls Title VI the "innovation money" needed to help schools implement the broad-based accountability plan Mr. Clinton announced in his State of the Union Address last month. ("Clinton Links K-12 Dollars, Performance," Jan. 27, 1999.)

"If you want to hold schools accountable, you have to give them some wiggle room," she said.

One place where Title VI has taken hold is New Mexico. There, federal money helps provide supplementary services to a broad range of students, not just the ones identified as disabled or at risk for whom other federal aid is earmarked, said Alan D. Morgan, who was the state superintendent until 1997.

"A large proportion of the population are the 'middle kids,' " said Mr. Morgan, now an executive vice president of the Dallas-based Voyager Expanded Learning Group, an education-consulting firm. "These kids may have a special interest or need for a particular period of time, but school districts don't have the money to help those particular groups of kids."

Mr. Morgan, who still works with the New Mexico schools as a consultant, said he would not support just any federal block grant, noting that he sees Title VI as special because of its focus on reform. "With these dollars come some very clear expectations," he said.

Vol. 18, Issue 23, Pages 32, 41

Published in Print: February 17, 1999, as GOP, Schools Decry Clinton Plan To Cut Title VI Funds
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