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Bell Raps Union's Report On Education Funding

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell has lashed out at labor-union critics of the Reagan Administration's education policies, calling a report they released on the President's budget proposals "the most inaccurate document that I have seen in a long time."

At an Aug. 26 news conference, Mr. Bell said the afl-cio report issued a day earlier "really exaggerated the effects of these alleged budget cuts."

"I don't know how they could have arrived at these numbers," he said of the report by the union's public-employee department. "The truth of the matter is that our opponents think that education was their sandbox, and like a bunch of spoiled kids they're angry that the President has decided to crawl in."

'Anti-Education President'

The union's report, titled "The Three R's (Reagan, Rhetoric, and Reality)," called President Reagan "the most anti-education President this country has ever had."

It based that conclusion on his efforts to abolish the Education Department and to reduce funding for vocational education and the Chapter 1 program to aid disadvantaged children. (See Education Week, Aug. 31, 1983.)

The report also argued that Mr. Reagan's widely publicized advocacy of topics such as merit pay for teachers and stiffened graduation requirements for high-school students is designed "to shift public attention from his own abysmal record in the area of federal aid to education. ..."

"Some people say that the President's activities are politically motivated," Mr. Bell said.

"Well, I believe that it's a fine thing when an elected official discovers that good public policy and politics can mix."

He added that "it's a bit absurd to say that Mr. Reagan must be the most anti-education President in history when he's out there helping us by speaking vigorously about education."

"You cannot totally equate commitment with funding," Mr. Bell said. "Many pro-education governors, Democrats and Republican alike, have been forced to make budget cuts. That's fiscal reality."

Cut Spending

The Secretary pointed out, for example, that the Democratic governor of Utah, Scott D. Matheson, was forced to cut spending for higher education three out of the five years that Mr. Bell served as that state's commissioner of higher education.

"No one ever scolded him for being the most anti-education governor in the state's history," Mr. Bell said. "I can't deny that we have proposed budget reductions. But if your family is in a financial bind and you have to cut your expenses, does that mean that you're against your children, for heaven's sake?"

"Blame us where we deserve it, but give us credit where credit is due," he said.

The Administration deserves credit, Mr. Bell added, for holding down the national rate of inflation.

"Our critics have taken our education-funding figures, added an inflation factor to them, and then claimed that we have cut the budget," he said.

"Now, if they want to do that, they ought to look at both sides of the ledger. They ought to credit this Administration for bringing down the inflation rate from about 12 percent when we came in to about 3 percent now.

"Today's education dollars are buying $16 billion more in services than if the 1980 rate of inflation had continued, but you see that mentioned nowhere in their report."

Mr. Bell added that the union report failed to note that federal income-tax reductions advocated by the President and approved by the Congress have enabled state and local governments to raise their own income taxes in order to provide more funds for education.

The Secretary also criticized the afl-cio's allegation that the Administration's proposals to cut spending by almost half for the Chapter 1 program would have resulted in the abolition of services to 1.2 million students in fiscal 1982 and 2.2 million students in fiscal 1983.

Spending for the program has actually increased from $2.5 billion in fiscal 1981 to $2.7 billion in the current fiscal year, he said. Furthermore, he said, school districts could have continued to provide services to just as many children by adopting cost-effective methods of instruction.

Voc-Ed Spending

The Secretary also objected to criticism of the Administration's proposals to reduce spending for vocational-education programs in fiscal 1984 by 53 percent from their current funding level of approximately $800 million.

"If you want to make us look bad on vocational education, then you concentrate on that line-item in the budget," he said.

"But at the same time you ignore that fact that we're putting our money into other job-related aspects of the budget," such as the College Work-Study program and the recently created Job Training Partnership Act program.

"I don't think we should be battling each other over education," Mr. Bell concluded. "It angers me to hear such discouragement offered.''

He said he was particularly upset by comments made by Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, during the press conference at which the union report was released.

Mr. Shanker accused the Administration of "misleading the American public by claiming no budget cuts and maintenance of service levels."

But despite that comment, Mr. Bell said that he expects to continue to work closely with the aft leader on other education-related topics on which the Administration and the teachers' group agree--most notably, merit pay for teachers.

"Al Shanker is too mature to let this affect our working relationship," Mr. Bell predicted.

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