98th Congress To Tackle Issues Unresolved by Its Predecessor
Washington--The 98th Congress, which convened here last week for its first session, is expected to take up quickly many of the education-related issues left unresolved by the 97th Congress.
But the new Congress, like its predecessor, will be even more preoccupied with budgetary issues. President Reagan is scheduled to deliver his fiscal 1984 budget to the legislators on Jan. 31, and the proposal may contain as much as $30 billion in recommended cuts in domestic programs, according to news reports.
Major budget reductions in education programs are likely to be rejected by the legislators, according to Capitol Hill sources. The fiscal 1983 federal education budget was increased by the Congress last year, from $14.6 billion to $15 billion, in spite of the President's request for a budget cut amounting to one-third of the previous year's total budget.
This year, the House includes 26 new Democrats, few of whom are expected to support the President's budget-austerity programs. The new Senate retains its ratio of 54 Republicans to 46 Democrats.
Among the major education issues facing the legislators are:
Mathematics and science education. Although 25 bills to improve mathematics and science education in schools and colleges were introduced last year, only one was approved by the House Science and Technology Committee. The bill did not reach the House floor because of a disagreement between that committee and the House Education and Labor Committee over whether the major part of the bill's $500-million authorization should support programs in elementary and secondary schools or programs in colleges.
Comprehensive legislation this year is expected to address such problems as the shortages of mathematics and science teachers, the lack of modern equipment in schools and colleges, and the need for new funds to support technological research.
Such legislation is supported by most public- and private-school lobbying associations. "Math-science legislation will be one of our highest priorities," said Greg Humphrey, director of legislation for the American Federation of Teachers.
Computer technology. The "Apple bill" to promote the use of computers as instructional tools in the schools was approved by the House last September, but it failed to reach the Senate floor during the post-election legislative session.
The measure, which is supported by the Administration, was reintroduced last week by Representative Brian J. Donnelly, Democrat of Massachusetts. Its passage is uncertain, in part because estimates of the cost of the bill range as high as $46- million annually and because education groups have given the bill only lukewarm support.
Vocational education. The Vocational Education Act of 1963 is scheduled to be reauthorized and amended this year, although education groups and the Reagan Administration differ over the best method of changing the legislation.
The Administration last year proposed to consolidate vocational and adult education into a package of block grants to states, with substantial deregulation. Education groups generally oppose this approach, largely because they suspect that block-grant legislation leads to federal budget reductions.
"We favor a more comprehensive approach to vocational education, in order to provide better training and retraining," said John Martin, director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers. "We need to promote better linkages between the military, the private sector, and the education community," he said.
An aide to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said the Senator's staff is revising the Administration's bill to include "links" to the new Job Training Partnership Act (which replaces the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) and to emphasize training for high-technology industries.
On the House side, the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky, last week introduced a measure that would simply extend the current version of the vocational-education bill.
Dismantling the Education Department. The proposal by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell to reduce the department from Cabinet-level status to a small foundation received so little support during informal meetings on Capitol Hill last year that the measure was never formally introduced.
The Secretary has insisted in recent interviews that the Administration intends to press forward in the 98th Congress with its attempt to dismantle the department. The plan is expected to receive the same negative reception from Congressmen this year, however.
Tuition tax credits. A measure to provide a maximum annual credit of $300 for private-school tuition was approved by the Senate Finance Committee last fall, but it failed to reach the Senate floor, in part because the fall session of Congress was dominated by debate over the appropriations process.
A new tuition tax-credit bill was introduced on the first day of the new session by Representative Marjorie S. Holt, Republican of Maryland. Action on the bill, or on similar measures, is uncertain, although lobbyists for Catholic education groups continue to press strongly for enactment of the tax credit.
School prayer. The President's proposal that the Congress pass a constitutional amendment that would, in effect, repeal the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 ban on prayer in public schools was debated in hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer.
The measure has many supporters in the Congress and among politically conservative lobbying groups. "We hope the Administration will get their act together and lobby heavily for school prayer and tuition tax credits," said Connaught C. Marshner, director of the family policy division of the Free Congress Research and Educational Foundation.
Numerous legislators oppose the amendment, however, because they say it would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
Taking a moderate approach last week, two members of Congress introduced resolutions expressing the sense of the Congress that voluntary periods of silence in public schools should be permitted. (The Supreme Court has not ruled against voluntary periods of silence.)
Balanced-budget amendment. Although the President lobbied heavily last year for passage of an amendment to require a balanced federal budget each year, the mea-sure was barely defeated.
Education groups opposed the measure, contending that so-called "nondefense, discretionary" programs such as education programs would receive smaller and smaller appropriations because the budget would be taken up with defense programs and entitlements, such as Social Security and welfare.
The bill is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congress.