Federal File: Social Issues To Return; Sex Education O.K.; E.D. Orders Forms; Celebration Proclaimed; S.O.S. Delivers
Leaders of numerous New Right political organizations said that like-minded members of Congress were able "to minimize their losses" in last week's elections and should be able to press forward with their "social-issues agenda" by emphasizing local lobbying efforts.
At a post-election press conference, Paul Weyrich, executive director of the Committee for the Survivial of a Free Congress, said that "conservatives did reasonably well," indicating that proposals to permit organized prayer in public schools and to restrict federal judges' power to issue busing orders "are viable."
But according to Howard Phillips, director of the Conservative Caucus, those issues did not fare especially well in the 97th Congress because the right-wing activists "mistakenly allowed President Reagan to carry the ball for us."
Next year, the New Right groups will "move away from their Washington-based strategy" and will instead "take our case directly to the grassroots" in hopes of spurring members of Congress to adopt the groups' views, he said.
In spite of the optimism of its leaders regarding the elections, the New Right campaign against sex education classes was dealt a blow last week by the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to review a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that upheld the state's sex-education regulation.
The state court had ruled last May that the regulation, which required public schools to teach sex education beginning in the 6th grade, did not violate constitutional rights to free exercise of religion because it permitted students who objected to the classes to be excused.
As to the allegation by the parents who brought the suit that the sex-education classes established "secular humanism" as a "state religion," the Court held that "nothing in the regulation or in the curriculum guidelines ... gives even the slightest indication that the program favors a 'secular' view of subject matter over a 'religious' one.''
The printing of federal financial-aid forms for college students next year, which had been held up pending a ruling in a lawsuit brought by a student-advocacy organization, was ordered to begin last week, the Education Department announced.
Distribution of the forms, which begins this month, was in danger of being delayed until next year, as the government waited for a federal judge to rule in the lawsuit brought against the department and several private firms.
In the case, the student group challenged a decision last year by the federal government to discontinue its practice of reimbursing the College Scholarship Service, the American College Testing service, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority for processing student applications for federal loans.
Although the lawsuit has not yet been resolved, the department said it must begin printing the forms because "we have a whole national aid program that simply couldn't be held up any more," said James W. Moore, director of the office of student financial assistance.
Mr. Moore added that students using private firms' forms to apply for federal aid must pay $6.50 for the service, until or unless the court rules otherwise.
Student applications for federal aid can be processed free only if federal forms--which can be obtained from the department--are used, according to Mr. Moore.
American Education Week, an annual occasion for celebration in the nation's schools, will be kicked off at the Education Department next week with an address by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell on Monday.
As is customary, President Reagan recently issued a proclamation outlining the week's theme, "A Strong Nation Needs Strong Schools."
The President, who has seldom commented publicly on the contributions of education to society, used the occasion to declare that "few matters are as critical to the future of our country the continued success of our educational system."
But Mr. Reagan also included a sentence or two regarding the authority of the parent as consumer--one of the principal themes of his Administration--and the right of parents to make educational choices.
"Part of our national strength is the fact that parents have the right to oversee their children's education," he said. "While our states provide public schools and state and local educators assist parents in achieving educational goals, it is clearly the right and duty of parents to supervise these functions.
Our tax system should ensure that effective parental choice in education is not the preserve of only the wealthy."
The White House was the place to be last week for those who believe that the Education Department "was created as a political payoff to the union leaders of the National Education Association who want to control the schools of America."
Save Our Schools, a national organization that promotes back-to-basics programs and teacher-competency examinations, delivered nearly 60,000 individual petitions making that statement and asking the President to make good on his campaign promise to abolish the department.
The group's Washington representative, Fran G. Gemma, presented the petitions to Morton Blackwell, a Presidential assistant. Ms. Gemma said she had already given the White House 37,000 similar documents last February.
sos, as the group is known, was founded by Dan Alexander, the feisty president of the Mobile, Ala., school board.
The organization, which has 50,000 dues-paying members, was formerly known as the National Taxpayers' Lobby.
--Tom Mirga and Eileen White