The Bell Memorandum
Grants and guaranteed student loan programs to the Treasury; moving the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights into the Justice Department; and folding into the new foundation such other agencies as the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public
All such moves, the document emphasizes, would have as their purpose remolding the federal role in education into "a structure intentionally created to render financial support, conduct research, and provide other forms of assistance, but to avoid direction and control."
First Steps Proposed
As first steps in this historic rejection of the expansion of federal education dollars--from $4 billion in 1965 to $25 billion in 1980--and regulations, the Bell memorandum recommends:
Enacting by next March legislation to turn the Education Department into a foundation that would serve largely to administer block grants, collect information, and conduct research. Most of the current Department's activities could then be "transferred, terminated or modified as new Administration policies are implemented."
Transferring four Department functions to other federal agencies: guaranteed student loans and Pell Grants to the Treasury Department; veterans' cost of instruction allowances to the Veterans Administration; Institute of Museum Services to the National Endowment for the Humanities; and Indian Education programs to the Department of the Interior.
Dissolving the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights and either moving its functions to the Justice Department or granting civil-rights enforcement responsibility to individual federal education-program offices. In either case, Mr. Bell would conduct "a review of basic education and civil-rights statutes and...regulations" with a view toward "making local and state resolution of complaints the first recourse."
'A Cooperative Posture'
The government, the memorandum says, "should assume a cooperative, rather than a coercive, posture. The threat of terminating Federal funding...is generally too drastic a response to problems in local school districts."
Replacing large-scale federal funding for education, which the memorandum says "is one of the factors responsible for the present imbalance of the federal budget," with "encouragement to the states to shoulder a greater share of the responsibility for delivering educational services." (Mr. Bell this year recommended a 27-percent cut in federal education spending.)
These actions, the document states, will help bring the Education Department into line with President Reagan's goals of:
"Greater use of the private sector, for example in student loan collections and in Administration-supported incentives such as tuition tax credits;
"More flexibility for states and localities in decision-making through block grants, reduction of regulations and relaxing of other federal requirements;
"Overall reduction in funding levels, number of separate programs, number of federal staff, points of federal-employee review and comment, and
"A more cooperative attitude in working toward civil-rights objectives, less ready to withdraw or threaten to withdraw federal funds."
According to the Bell memorandum, the existing structure must be dismantled because the cabinet-level Education Department "(1) exercises a degree of federal control over educational institutions that is inappropriate and (2) implies acceptance of a federal responsibility that is not condoned by the Constitution or custom and that is unrealistic under foreseeable budgetary constraints.
Powers of the States
"The 10th Amendment, reserving to the states and the people powers not delegated to federal government by the Constitution, has not been followed--especially in education--strictly and wisely by Congress and the courts," the memorandum states.
"We have seen special-interest groups successfully shifting power, in the decade of the 1970's, away from teacher, parent and school board, and toward organized lobby, civil servant, committed elected officials and convinced judges," it continues. "Local education authorities are now caught between state government, federal government, and legislative and judicial presences in the classroom, and basic decisions are now made in arenas farther and farther away from the classroom."
That rationale is illustrated with quotes from James Madison's discussions of the potential conflict between levels of government in The Federalist Papers, which are frequently cited as the source of the Reagan Administration's " new Federalism":
"'The ultimate authority...resides in the people alone .... It will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other."'
The memorandum argues that not only is education not a federal function, it is also not a federal purpose: "The federal interest is not in specific educational outcomes," it reasons. "Cabinet departments should reflect major Constitutional responsibilities of the President who must concentrate on issues for which the teachers and institutional representatives to form the basis for a cabinet-level agency."
Proposed Federal Role
What functions should the federal government serve? Its involvement, according to the document, "should center on those activities which nourish the quality of education in harmony with our rich diversity of individual talents and our heritage of local responsibility." It lists "six broad avenues...which together define the
Advancing equality of opportunity. "A line can and must be drawn between the principle of equal treatment, and the specification of details of school administration, rule, regulation and curriculum.... The threat of terminating federal funding, for states and localities in noncompliance with federal statutes, is generally too drastic a response."
Research and demonstration for improvement in education. "The federal government's role should be to help expand knowledge of effective practice. It will be up to local school districts and states to apply this research and the lessons from demonstrations."
Strengthening and increasing local and state capacities in selected and limited areas of educational need. "Narrow categorical programs...cannot accommodate the variety of conditions found in different states and communities." Funds should be allocated "to increase capacities of state, local, and private educational organizations ...in block grants that give wide latitude."
The memorandum asserts that "the critical signal that the overly intrusive federal role has been checked" is the dismantling of the cabinet-level Education Department.
A National Foundation
A National Education Foundation, based on the model of the current National Science Foundation, by contrast, "would be perceived as a supportive rather than regulatory or enforcement-oriented organization." It would be governed by a board of directors that would "assure that its activities do not intrude on the responsibilities of public and private educational organizations. It would not, of course, in any way be a national school board making national education policy," the memorandum states.
Since Secretary Bell's preference for turning his Department into a foundation was publicized several weeks ago, both he and Undersecretary William Clohan have said that the foundation is one of several options the President may choose for dismantling the Education Department. Other proposed structures, analyzed in the memo, include: creating an independent agency; merging education with the Departments of Labor, Commerce, or Health and Human Services; and dispersing education functions among several federal agencies.
Mr. Bell rejects the independent agency because its creation would imply a "federal mission [that is] contrary to the Administration's purposes to turn more decision making back to states."
Merging education with another federal agency would be too costly and would "diminish momentum toward streamlining the education functions," the Bell document says. And dispersing education functions throughout other agencies would be "subject to the claim...that the importance of education is not recognized."
Aim Would Be Support
Although "each one of the options would fulfill the President's commitment to abolish the Department," according to the memorandum, an education foundation by "its very name conveys the supportive, non-coercive nature of the federal role the Administration seeks."
An attractive feature of such an arrangement, the memorandum suggests, "would be the ability of the foundation to adjust to changes as new Administration policies are implemented."
A foundation should be structured, it says, so that it can accommodate such future proposals as: "additional block grants and program consolidations; program mergers; transfers to other agencies; and reduction in staff functions through changes in regulations, monitoring and review."
Secretary Could Act
Should Congress fail to pass the reorganization legislation, the memorandum notes that the law that created the Education Department would permit Secretary Bell to initiate radical changes nonetheless. It lists several education program offices that the Secretary of Education "may alter, consolidate, or discontinue...or reallocate any of their functions" under the authority of the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979.
As spelled out in Section 413(b) of that law, these are: bilingual education, education and training programs for the handicapped, Indian education, nonpublic education, National Institute of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, community-college assistance, veterans' cost of instruction, libraries and learning resources, career education, gifted and talented programs, guidance and counseling programs, consumer education, environmental education, and the Teacher Corps. (The latter six programs are among those already consolidated into block grants.)
Other "units," according to the document, may not be abolished or consolidated, except through statutory amendment.
Language authorizing the dismantling of other programs is likely to be included in an Education Department reorganization bill, which the document suggests President Reagan introduce in January, accompanied by a major speech.
The legislation would be in line with Mr. Reagan's campaign promise, which was subsequently incorporated in the Republican Party platform, to abolish the Education Department.