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Educational Remedies: Tuition Credits, Prayer

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Washington--Until "consumer sovereignty" predominates in American education--through tuition tax credits and education vouchers--elementary and secondary schools will do a poor job of preparing students to enter a competitive society.

That was the opinion of one speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference held here last month by the American Conservative Union and the Young Americans for Freedom.

Lawrence A. Uzzell, president of Learn, Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes tax credits and vouchers, said that public support for vouchers is widespread because "the liberal agenda has been tried and it has not worked." But the voucher idea still has not been tested on a large scale, said Mr. Uzzell, who assumed the post at Learn, Inc. last year after resigning as special assistant to the director of the National Institute of Education, when the director was fired.

Other speakers on education at the conference included Albert A. Angrisani, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, and Oklahoma State Senator William D. Graves. President Reagan also addressed the conference and repeated his support for tuition tax credits and school prayer.

Because most families cannot choose the schools their children attend, said Mr. Uzzell, the schools are not accountable to their needs. Government incentives--whether for the "liberal" goal of equality, or the "conservative" goal of excellence--will not change the schools' approach to teaching, he added.

"If we can fix the problem of the government's monopoly on schools, we'd be able to fix all the other problems of schools," Mr. Uzzell said.

Desirable National Policy

Mr. Uzzell praised President Reagan's introduction of the voucher concept as a desirable national policy, as well as his continued support for tuition tax credits for private schools. But he criticized the President for failing to "pulverize" the Education Department and for proposing a jobs-training bill.

Mr. Angrisani praised the Labor Department's dismantling of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (ceta) in favor of the Job Training Partnership Act, which the President signed into law late last year.

He said the new program's emphasis on training and cooperation with business would be more valuable than public-sector "make-work" jobs.

But Mr. Uzzell said he was not impressed.

"That's totally wrong," he said of the program, which will cost $3.7 billion this year. "We can't predict what a student is going to need [to compete in the job market]. I agree that there is a crisis in math and science, but I don't think there's anything the federal government can do about it."

Praises Judge Hand

Mr. Graves, who is also a lawyer for a kindergarten-through-9th-grade school in Little Axe, Okla., that is defending its school-prayer policy in U.S. District Court, attacked the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in 1962 and 1963 that found school prayer to be in violation of the Constitution's prohibition against the establishment of religion.

Mr. Graves praised an opinion by U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand that the Court had erred in finding school prayer unconstitutional. "He's one of the few judges I know who has read the Firstment," Mr. Graves said.

(U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell has ordered an injunction preventing the state's prayer law from being implemented until the case is heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals.)

The framers of the Constitution, Mr. Graves said, "did not believe in the separation of church and state." Their only prohibition, he said, was against the establishment of a national religion.

Further, Mr. Graves said, many government policies since the nation's founding--such as the use of chaplains in the Congress, "Christianizing the Indians," and recommending Bible study in schools--were in agreement with the Constitution's aims.

But with the 1960's decisions, he said, "the Supreme Court has made itself the overseer of religion." The solution, he said, is for the Congress to pass a law restricting the courts' authority in church-state issues.

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