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Catholic Educators Briefed On Tuition Tax-Credit Proposal

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Chicago--Keeping a campaign promise that won him broad support among Roman Catholics, President Reagan told the approximately 14,000 members of the National Catholic Educational Association (ncea) meeting here last week that he is sending to Congress tuition tax-credit legislation designed to aid "working Americans [who] are overtaxed and underappreciated," and who "bear the double burden of public and private school costs."

Speaking on the final day of the ncea's 79th annual meeting, the President outlined the elements of "The Educational and Opportunity Equity Act," which he intends to send to Congress later this spring.

The proposal, which would permit parents to take a credit on their income tax for each child in a private school, would:

Set the maximum level of the credit at $500, phased in from 1983 to 1985, andit to parents of children in private, nonprofit elementary and secondary schools that do not discriminate on the basis of race. Mr. Reagan said that "budgetary constraints" made it impossible to extend credits to parents paying college costs, but said he would like to expand the bill to include such parents in the future.

Try to ensure that the benefits go only to "working families" by placing an "income cap" in the proposal. Mr. Reagan did not indicate the income ceiling he would favor, but said, "We do not seek to aid the rich, but those lower- and middle-income federal taxpayers who are most strapped by inflation."

The President's proposal differs in some significant respects from the best-known tax-credit bill, introduced by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, and Robert Packwood, Republican of Oregon.

The Moynihan-Packwood bill would provide credits for families with college students; the Reagan proposal would not. The Senators' bill would provide aid instead of a tax credit to families who do not pay taxes because their incomes are too low; the Reagan proposal would not. It is estimated that the Moynihan-Packwood bill, when fully phased in, would result in a revenue loss to the Treasury of up to $6.9 billion, while the comparable figure for the Reagan proposal could be up to $2.5 billion, according to Frank J. Monahan, assistant for government liaison in the United States Catholic Conference, one of the chief lobbyists for tuition tax credits.

Neither bill would extend tax credits to parents whose children attend schools that discriminate on the basis of race. Msgr. John F. Meyers, president of the ncea, said last week his organization would actively oppose any bill that did not exclude discriminatory schools.

Senator Moynihan said last week that he did not think there was enough time in the current session of Congress to deal with the bill.

Senator Robert J. Dole, Republican of Kansas and chairman of the Finance Committee, is a supporter of the tax-credit concept, but said that tight revenues and a packed legislative agenda make passage of the bill unlikely this year.

The announcement was the highlight of last week's ncea meeting. "Obviously, we're very pleased. This is the number one priority on our education agenda," said Mr. Monahan.

He warned supporters of the bill, however, that Presidential support notwithstanding, it will not be passed without continued pressure on Capitol Hill "to avoid this becoming an Administration going through the motions to give the appearance of making good on a campaign commitment."

Mr. Monahan said the bill, if passed, would "certainly" result in litigation over whether it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Although both he and Monsignor Meyers were satisfied with the amount of credit in the proposal, both expressed dissatisfaction with the Administration's cuts in other government education programs in which Catholic schools already participate, such as Title I, Head Start, and the federal school-lunch program.

The rest of the weeklong gathering of Catholic educators was devoted to the theme, "Visions and Values." In the words of Monsignor Meyers, the challenge implied by that theme is how to continue the stated Catholic-school mission of "creating a new world based on Gospel values," especially in a time when the number of lay teachers in Catholic schools is increasing.

In the 1968-69 school year, 57 percent of the full-time teaching staff was composed of priests and nuns; today, the figure is 26 percent. One ongoing ncea project, called the Christian Formation of Catholic Educators, seeks to train lay teachers in a way that will "preserve Catholicity in the schools," according to Bruno V. Manno, the ncea's research director.

In a few weeks, according to Mr. Manno, the ncea will decide what new programs and projects to pursue in conjunction with the theme.

During the week, educators from Catholic elementary and secondary schools throughout the nation participated in about 250 sessions deal-ing with subjects as varied as the use of educational technology, adolescent sexuality, and the needs of disabled students.

And in a number of sessions, special focus was given to the education needs of black and Hispanic students, who currently make up 19 percent of the more than three million students who attend Catholic schools--a percentage expected to continue growing in the coming years.

'Values and Vision'

In the opening address of the convention, Norman C. Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans, said that if the association's goal of imparting "values and vision" to students is to be realized in the coming years, there must be a "religious renaissance" among Catholic-school students and teachers.

The task of assuring that Catholic schools "survive, with quality," Mr. Francis said, "will require leadership and great faith, love, justice, and sacrifice by all who are involved."

"In short, the values we would espouse to teach will first have to be the motivating forces in our own lives to accomplish the renaissance I feel is at hand."

Mr. Francis said he hoped that during the coming years, as the "inner city and the schools become poorer, as well as blacker and browner,'' the Catholic schools' mission of providing "quality community" schools will not be forsaken.

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