Federal education officials have ordered major cuts in a $2.4 million desegregation aid program for Washington's public school system, whose enrollment is 95 percent black.
The city has been getting the funds, which pay for remedial classes, career counseling, and some "enrichment" activities, since 1973.
Even though federal regulations have not changed since then, officials of the U.S. Office of Education said yesterday they now are giving them a "tighter interpretation" to make sure the money goes only to schools covered by a desegregation plan and which contain a substantial number of students of both races.
As a result, federal officials said the money can be spent next year in only 18 schools, nearly all of them west of Rock Creek Park or downown, where almost all of the city's 4,240 white students are concentrated. the black enrollment in these schools ranges from 14 to 89 precent while the city's other schools are virtually all black.
This year, as in the past, much of the aid money was spent throughout the city on programs affecting all 190 of Washington's public schools.
Officials indicated that the amount given to Washington would shrink substantially, though how large the grant will be has not been determined.
Why has the interpretation (of the rules) changed now?" D.C. School Superintendent Vincent reed said yesterday. "why can't we continue to do what we've been doing?"
Reed said his staff has been negotiating with federal officials about the stricter interpretation since midwinter.
"We're still trying to get them to reconsider," Reed said. "We're trying to talk them out of some of it. . . If they hold strictly to some federal regulation, that may cut us out of a lot of resources. I'm here to get as many resources as I can for the schools of this city."
The money involved comes from the Emergency School Aid Act, first passed by Congress in 1972, which this year is providing $300 million nationwide.
In the Washington suburbs, the program has made substantial grants this year to Alexandria and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. All three have desegregation plans, involving substantial busing of children away from neighborhood schools.
Washington's schools were originally desegregated in 1954 under a neighborhood school assignment plan. In 1967, as a result of a lawsuit by Julius Hobson, Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the city to offer bus transportation to black students in overcrowded schools in Anacostia who volunteered to attend underused schools in white neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park.
But as new schools were opened in Anacostia, the number of volunteers dwindled, and the buses stopped running five years ago.
The schools west of the park, however, have continued to attract black students from elsewhere in the city through individual transfers.
In a letter to Reed last month, Deputy U.S. Education Commissioner Thomas K. Minter said these schools remained eligible for the desegregation aid funds because they "are currently maintaining a desegregated student body."
Minter said the school system would have to drop completely the career education program, costing about $700,000, which provided career information counselors in all of the city's high schools and similar programs for elementary and junior high schools.
He said a remedial reading and mathematics program would have to be dropped in nine public schools.
The largest program involved, called "Two-W," which provides remedial studies and enrichment activities, would have to be cut back from 40 schools to 18, Minter said.