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Bell Defends '83 Cuts, Admits Decline in Quality May Result

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Washington--In response to strong criticism from Republicans and Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee last week, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell admitted that "when you reduce funding [for federal education programs], you sacrifice as far as quality is concerned."

Nevertheless, Mr. Bell told the committee members at a hearing on the Reagan Administration's fiscal 1983 budget proposals that he would "stand by the budget before you today."

"We do not plan any upward revisions," Mr. Bell said.

Refuse Reductions

The Secretary's responses came after members of both parties said they would refuse to make the reductions in education programs that President Reagan has requested.

The President would reduce federal funding for education programs from $14.8 billion in fiscal 1981--which is the amount being spent during the current academic year--to $9.9 billion in fiscal 1983.

The committee is required to report its recommendations on the President's plan to the House Budget Committee by March 15. Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky and chairman of the education committee, made it clear that the committee members would recommend a larger education budget.

Representative Perkins said he was confident the cuts would not be accepted because the Administration "is being deserted" by many of the Republicans who supported the President's education budget cuts last year.

Priorities Questioned

"Many of these proposals I cannot support," John M. Ashbrook, Republican of Ohio, told the Secretary. "While we accept the notion of trying to reduce [the federal budget], yours and the Office of Management and Budget's priorities are not necessarily ours."

Representative Ashbrook also faulted the Administration for giving Republican committee members "next to no input into decisions being made." He contrasted the current situation to the debate over last year's education budget, in which he said "we worked with your staff on the budget."

Mr. Ashbrook was the author of a block-grants proposal that was incorporated into the 1981 Education Consolidation and Improvement Act, which simplified the Title I program for disadvantaged children and created the education block-grants program.

'Concern for Education

The Administration proposal was also criticized by Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, who said "the concern for expenditures has to go along with the concern for education."

Likewise, Republicans Thomas E. Coleman of Missouri and Marge Roukema of New Jersey said they would not support the budget cuts. "It's not like last year," when Republicans supported the President's program, said Representative Craig.

Representative Roukema, protesting that "we've gone about as far as we can go," said she and 23 other committee members sent a letter to the House Appropriations subcommittee on education asking its members to refuse the Administration's proposal "to enact immediate, drastic changes in the guaranteed student loan program through the appropriations process."

Financial Need

The request, which would take effect April 1 if enacted, would eliminate participation in the program by graduate students, increase the loan-origination fee, and require all students to demonstrate financial need, she said.

"It's clear that the budget cannot be justified by you or by others based on the merits of it," Representative George Miller of California told Mr. Bell. "The committee should reject the budget and rewrite its own," he said, echoing the sentiments expressed by all of the committee's Democratic members.

Unexpected Support

In a related development, the education committee received unexpected support from 21 freshman members of Congress, all of them Republicans. Calling themselves the Coalition Against Reductions in Education, the group sent a letter to President Reagan asserting that "the extent of the proposed reductions in education is unacceptable."

"Last year, in response to a nationwide mandate to cut back burgeoning federal spending, we supported efforts to trim the federal budget.... However, we do not agree with all the spending priorities set forth in the Administration's proposed 1983 budget," the Feb. 24 letter said.

Cuts 'Unfair'

"Specifically, we believe that education has taken a disproportionate share of cuts and that the magnitude of the reductions in education proposed by the Administration in the 1983 budget is unfair in relation to allocations in other budget areas.... We believe Republicans care deeply about maintaining the integrity of our educational system within the realm of fiscal responsibility and want to put that belief into concrete actions," it continued.

The letter, which requests a meeting with the President to discuss the issue, was circulated by Representative Jim Dunn of Michigan, whose Congressional district includes seven colleges and universities, according to a spokesman for Dunn.

Freshmen Signers

Other freshman members who signed the letter included: Hank Brown of Colorado, Gregory W. Carman of New York, James K. Coyne of Pennsylvania, Larry E. Craig of Idaho, Lawrence J. DeNardis of Connecticut, Cooper Evans of Iowa, Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, Thomas F. Hartnett of South Carolina, John LeBoutillier of New York, Raymond J. McGrath of New York, Guy A. Molinari of New York, Sid Morrison of Washington, Michael G. Oxley of Ohio, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, Joe Skeen of New Mexico, Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, Ed Weber of Ohio, Vin Weber of Minnesota, and George C. Wortley of New York.

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