Federal News Roundup
The Reagan Administration's proposal for a constitutional amendment to permit organized prayer in public schools, which the President unveiled in a speech on May 6, was formally sent to Congress last week.
"I believe that it would be beneficial for our children to have an opportunity to begin each school day" by praying, Mr. Reagan said as he sent the proposal to Capitol Hill.
Organized prayer in public schools was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1962, although evangelical religious leaders of the New Right and leaders of the Catholic Church have lobbied for its restoration.
"Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions," the proposed amendment states. "No person shall be required by the United States or by any state to participate in prayer."
To become law, the constitutional amendment must be passed by two-thirds of the members of the House and the Senate, as well as by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Gary L. Jones, a former school-board member from a Virginia suburb of Washington, has been named undersecretary of the Education Department.
Mr. Jones, who will serve as acting undersecretary until he is confirmed by the Senate, had been the department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation.
The post as second-in-command of the embattled department is considered a troublesome spot. The previous undersecretary, William C. Clohan Jr., was fired by the Administration after he was criticized by influential conservatives.
Opponents of Mr. Jones also sought to block his appointment, alleging in editorials printed by two conservative journals that Mr. Jones is not a "movement conservative."
Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, a moderate Republican whose resignation has been called for repeatedly this year by conservative lobbyists, appears to be making an effort to "reach out" to the conservative education community, department sources said last week.
Media advisers to the Secretary have scheduled speaking engagements later this year before some of the most vociferous opponents of a strong federal role in education, the sources said.
The Secretary will address Family Forum II, a "leadership training conference" for conservative scholars, parents, and political activists, in Washington in late July. The conference is sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation, a group that espouses traditional family values, and by the Moral Majority, the evangelical political organization founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
In September, Mr. Bell will speak at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. This private Christian college has received much attention this year as the result of the Reagan Administration's about-face in a Supreme Court case on the school's eligibility for federal tax-exempt status.
An Education Department spokesman said that the subjects of the Secretary's remarks to those groups had not yet been determined.
The Education Department's office of management has hired another critic of department activities, Susan Phillips of the Conservative Caucus Foundation, as a $52,000-per-year consultant.
Ms. Phillips, a former teacher, has been assigned "to help us examine the entire grants and contracts process from A to Z," said a department official who asked not to be identified.
Ms. Phillips, who served as director of research for the lobbying organization, was identified by editors of the magazine Conservative Digest as one of the principal sources for the numerous articles that appeared in the April special issue, entitled "How Washington Funds the Left."
The magazine criticized, as "anti-Reagan," several organizations that had received federal education grants and contracts. Those named included the American Friends Service Committee, the National Organization for Women, The United States Student Association, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The magazine said Ms. Phillips told its editors that she had "taken on the 'funding-of-the-left' issue on a nearly full-time basis."
A second hearing was held last week in support of a joint House-Senate resolution urging each state to establish a commission on teacher excellence to study ways of improving the recruitment, training, and retention of teachers.
Representative Paul Simon, sponsor of the joint resolution and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, said that the state commissions would "report to all levels of government, from local to national, on what can be done to encourage and sustain excellence in teaching."
"It is clear that the federal jurisdiction is limited in this area,'' said Mr. Simon, who held an earlier hearing on the resolution when he introduced it in February. "But there may be a role for the federal government to fund research and demonstration projects, to make this kind of information available to state and local authorities, to encourage students to enter teaching, and to encourage in-service professional training."
Howard Thompson, a member of the Illinois board of education, testifying on behalf of the National Association of State Boards of Education, said that his organization "does not believe that the addition of yet another bureaucratic layer can contribute to the smooth resolution of either what teacher competence consists of or how we can encourage excellence in it."
He advocated the establishment, with federal funds, of a body made up of a "broad state-based constituency" that would "provide for national coordination and upgrading of already existing state, university, and local efforts."
The subcommittee now will make its final draft of the resolution, HJ Res 429.