Administration Criticized On Girls’ Education Issues

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The Bush administration is accused of rolling back the progress of girls and women, including their opportunities to succeed at school, in a sharply worded report issued last week by the National Women’s Law Center.

The Washington-based advocacy organization cites a range of what it perceives as offenses related to education, such as efforts by the Bush administration to zero out funding for the Women’s Educational Equity Act and to "weaken Title IX protections for female athletes," and its failure to investigate the exclusion of females from certain education programs.

Moreover, the law center, which has been a vocal critic of Bush administration policies, attacked proposed Education Department rules issued in March on single-sex schooling. The group contends that the changes would "decrease the safeguards that ensure equal opportunity when sex-segregated programs are provided." ("Rules on Single-Sex Education Allow Room to Experiment," March 10, 2004.)

The April 8 report reviews the administration’s record in 10 major areas, and recommends a series of measures the group believes would expand and protect women’s rights and opportunities. Beyond education, the report covers subjects from child care and tax policy to Social Security, abortion rights, violence against women, and women in the military.

"What we’re trying to do is to pull all of these instances together," said Nancy Duff Campbell, the group’s co-president, "to show a … widespread pattern."

Ms. Campbell, in an April 8 conference call with reporters, said that while certain Bush administration moves have been widely known, "some of these actions are occurring almost completely out of the public eye."

Claims Called ‘Bogus’

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the report amounted to "special-interest politics in an election year."

"The education claims are outrageous and, frankly, bogus, and they know it," she added.

The law center laments President Bush’s lack of support for the $3 million Women’s Educational Equity program, which, among other provisions, provides curricula and materials to help schools comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funds.

"Every year it has been in office, the administration has tried to eliminate funding for [the program]," the report says.

In its budget proposal for fiscal 2005, the Education Department said such activities could be supported through "larger, more flexible" federal education programs.

The law center maintains that the department has "refused" to investigate the exclusion of women from traditionally male educational programs, from vocational education in high school to enrollment and employment in math and science programs at major research universities.

For instance, the center filed 12 "petitions for compliance review" in June 2002, requesting investigation of what it described as "stark patterns of sex segregation in high school vocational programs." The department declined to investigate these matters, the report says. The law center cites a letter it received on the matter from the department’s office for civil rights in January 2003, which argued that the agency would not undertake such compliance activities based on statistical data alone.

The Education Department’s Ms. Aspey said the agency sent letters in response seeking more specific information, such as the names of schools.

"The bottom line is, we take all allegations of discrimination very, very seriously," she said. "We’ve asked them for more information, and for whatever reason they won’t provide it. … We can’t investigate an allegation if we don’t have enough facts."

Vol. 23, Issue 31, Page 32

Published in Print: April 14, 2004, as Administration Criticized On Girls’ Education Issues
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This story misquoted Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. In criticizing the report, Ms. Aspey said it amounted to "special-interest politics in a political year."

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