Prodded by dissatisfied parents and civil rights lawyers group, the Washington School Board has ordered major changes in the way the school system plans to spend $14 million next year in federal aid for low-income children.
The parents, backed by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, charged that too much money from the federal program, Title I, was being used for administrators andd supervisors and too little for teachers and classroom aides.
Even though more than $100 million has been spent in the past 10 years on Title I programs in D.C. schools, the critics charged there is no evidence that students have made significant educational gains.
At a meeting Monday, the school board voted to add 59 teachers to 130 that the program already employs to provide extra instruction in reading and mathematics. The board said about 5,000 more students should be added to the program, compared with 14,500 who administrators originally said could be served.
The new teachers will be used to beef up programs already underway for children in kindergarten through third grade and for seventh graders in 16 of the city's 29 junior highs.
In addition, reading labs will be added for fourth graders in 20 elementary schools, and reading and math teachers will be hired to help 10th graders in six of the city's 12 senior highs.
Under federal regulations, the Title I program also serves about 1,000 low-income children in 11 parochial schools. Services to them will be expanded slightly because of the board action.
"It's not everything we wanted," said Betty Ann Kane, chairwoman of the board finance committee, which spent about three months dealing with administrators to work out the changes. "But I think it's really great step forward in getting more direct services to children."
Kane said about half the $1.5 million needed for the extra teachers and books would be raised by eliminating reserve funds administrators had requested.
In addition, Kane said, special education programs for handicapped children were shifted to other federal grant funds. Travel funds were cut by $40,000, training for teachers and aides was reduced by $25,000, and $267,000 was taken from this year's Title I budget.
"I would have been happier if some of the administrators had been cut too," Kane said. "But it's a great improvement over what we had before."
The vote approving the changes was 7.2 with opposition coming from board members Calvin Lockridge and Alaire Rieffel, who said the changes did not go far enough.
Rieffel said the budget still contains "extravagent services" outside the classroom, such as full'time graphic artist.
Lockridge urged that the program be investigated by the federal goverment.
Meanwhile, the lawyers committee, which said it was acting on behalf of dissatisfied parents, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Office of Education last week, charging that parents have not been given enough say in shaping Title I programs and that money has been "misappropriated."
Susan Perry, a lawyer for the committee, said the committee has not yet spelled out the misappropriation charges, although it believed some Title I money had been used for other school expenses.
D.C. Superintendent Vicent Reed said the charges are "absolutely out of focus" and said there is "no indication at all" that any money has been misspent. He said he had met with federal officials to discuss the program and complaint about it.
A spokesman for the Office Education said Reed had been asked to supply more information about the program here, but that no official investigation is underway.
At Monday's board meeting, the Title I program also received warm praise from board member Barbara Lett Simmons.
"It's very sad to see an exemplary program maligned," Simmons said. "If the rest of the school system was scrutinized as much as Title I has been, we might find that it needs some changes too."