Governors, Congressmen Criticize New Cuts
Washington--The federal role in education was once again a topic of discussion on Capitol Hill last week, as Democratic members of the House Budget Committee assailed the President's proposals for the 1983 budget and an education foundation, while the nation's governors expressed their enthusiasm for assuming responsibility for some federal education programs.
'New Federalism' Plan
The National Governors' Association met here to consider President Reagan's "New Federalism" plan, which, beginning in fiscal 1984, would turn most education programs over to the states. The Administration's emissary to both the governors and the budget committee was Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who heard sharp words in each quarter.
Although they agreed unanimously with Mr. Reagan that education programs should be included in the "swap," several governors expressed reservations about the plan.
"The issue of trust undergirds the 'New Federalism,"' said Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, at a meeting of the association's committee on human resources. "I'm concerned as to the confidence level in the federal government's sustaining its current level of funding for programs."
Likewise, Richard W. Riley, Democrat of South Carolina, said that although he "supported last year's [budget] cuts, there's a force in this budget that's kind of an accounting process. Federalism should be a political-science dialogue. I'd suggest focusing on quality rather than on accounting explanations [to justify budget cuts]," he said.
"I question the suggested cuts in education, including training programs. How can you increase productivity when you decrease emphasis on education and training?" he added.
Secretary Bell outlined for the governors the Administration's proposal to reduce the federal education budget from $14.8 billion in the current school year to $9.9 billion in the 1983-84 school year.
Governor James B. Hunt Jr., Democrat of North Carolina and chairman of the committee, said that most of its members "are opposed to the budget cuts, opposed to cuts in human-capital programs. We want you to know we're going to fight you. Perhaps in your heart you know we may be right," he told Mr. Bell.
The Secretary also faced strong opposition from members of the House Budget Committee during a hearing to review the Administration's 1983 budget proposal and its plan to replace the cabinet-level Education Department with a "Foundation for Education Assistance."
Although Mr. Bell said the Administration "wants to be open to suggestions for how to improve the bill" to turn the Education Department into a foundation, committee members said they opposed the bill's premise.
"What you're doing is retrogressive," said Representative James R. Jones, Democrat of Oklahoma and chairman of the committee.
"I think you're a decent man, but I think you're dead wrong as far as [the foundation] is concerned," he continued. "From a management point of view, it doesn't make any sense. Your proposal says, 'We reduce our commitment to education at the federal level.' But when we look at the future, one thing we need is education."
Representative Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, also took the Secretary to task for the proposed cuts in aid to college students.
"Do you know of any precedent in history where a nation has said, 'We're going to build our future by cutting education drastically'?" he asked.
"I see you presiding as Secretary over the demise of public education in this country," charged Representative Leon E. Panetta, Democrat of California. "Maybe we don't need a Secretary of Education," he said.
Likewise, Representative Timo-thy E. Wirth, Democrat of Colorado, faulted the Administration for reducing aid to public education, while at the same time proposing to grant tax credits to parents who pay tuition for their children to attend private schools.
Mr. Wirth was referring to a one-sentence mention in the 1983 bud-get proposal that said the Administration would propose legislation for tuition tax credits "later in the year."
Although Mr. Bell said he knew "nothing about the plan," the Congressman criticized the Administration for not delineating an overall plan for education--both private and public.
"I'm appalled at the inconsistency of the Administration's policy on that front," he said.
Meanwhile, the governors--despite the concerns they raised with the Secretary--later reached agreement on "an appropriate federal role" in education that echoed some Administration themes.
They passed a resolution asserting that "education is a function reserved to the states, and the states have long accepted their primary role."
The resolution, which will be transmitted to the Congress and to the White House, also says that "in matters of overriding national concern, those not limited to any one state or group of states, the federal government does have an interest and responsibility."
Regarding elementary and secondary education, the resolution sets forth three components of a "shared state/federal role":
"The federal role is limited to the four areas that are in the national interest: guaranteeing access (to educational programs and student financial assistance for all students); special populations (including the handicapped, limited-English-proficient, educationally disadvantaged, migrants, refugees, institutionalized youth, and residents of Indian reservations); research and development; and preparing the work force."
"The state, through a federal/state compact, should provide full program and fiscal accountability for expenditure of federal financial assistance at both the state and local levels."
"Federal financial assistance for education should come to a state in the form of a block grant so that the state may ensure equitable distribution of the funds to local school districts."
The resolution also says that the National Governors Association "opposes tuition tax credits at both the elementary/secondary and postsecondary levels.
'Difficult to Justify'
"This position is based on the belief that the resultant decreased tax revenues would be difficult to justify in view of ... the need to sort out governmental functions and return to the states more authority over the utilization of tax resources."