Bell Schedules E.D.'s Summit; Congress Considers Another
Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell has decided to convene his proposed "national forum" on education in Indianapolis in early December, the Education Department announced last week.
By deciding to hold the meeting on Dec. 6-8, Mr. Bell has virtually eliminated the possibility that it can be coordinated with the nearly identical "summit conference" on education being pressed for by members of the House and Senate.
Although the House on Oct. 3 passed its version of the bill calling for the meeting, the bill's counterpart in the Senate has yet to be acted on by that chamber's Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and the Humanities.
Rep. Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana and sponsor of the measure in the House, predicted last week that the Congressionally sponsored gathering, if approved by the Senate and then by President Reagan, would not take place until "late spring or early summer."
"It's really too late for us to coordinate our efforts," Representative Williams said. "We tried to persuade the Administration to delay their meeting, but they refused."
Mr. Bell had remarked earlier that such a meeting of the nation's educational leaders, which would focus on findings of National Commission on Excellence in Education and other recent reports on the status of American education, could not wait for Congressional action. (See Education Week, Sept. 28, 1983.)
Other Reagan Administration officials had also stated that the President would veto the Congressional proposal if it reaches his desk, mainly because of its $500,000 cost.
But according to Representative Williams, Mr. Bell told him during a recent luncheon meeting that he "understands the purpose of our meeting and he sees the need for it."
That position would appear to mark a shift in the Administration's previously stated opposition to the Congressional proposal.
Last week, for example, Gary L. Bauer, the Education Department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, said that "the official word is still that that we see no need for any conference other than the one that we are planning."
"The number of federal dollars for education is limited, and it makes no sense to us to spend one more dollar than necessary," Mr. Bauer said.
Mr. Bauer also said that the Administration is also concerned about the timing of the Congressionally-sponsored meeting. "Next spring we will be right in the middle of the Presidential campaign, and in that politically charged atmosphere, it will be hard to have a reasoned debate."
He added, however, that "the President is constantly reviewing our positions. Our feet aren't set in concrete on anything."
The president of the American Federation of Teachers also recently urged Mr. Reagan to reassess his opposition to the Congressional proposal.
Albert Shanker, president of the 580,000-member American Federation of Teachers, told the President in a recent letter that the conference would provide an opportunity "to formulate a plan to put America back on the path of educational progress."
"In a bipartisan atmosphere, the conference would ... foster intergovernmental cooperation and build a public consensus for educational reform," Mr. Shanker said in his Oct. 7 letter.
Mr. Shanker initially supported the concept of a national conference shortly after the release of the excellence commission's report last April.
The proposal working its way through the Congress states that the purpose of the summit meeting is "to develop workable educational solutions in response to the findings" of the excellence commission and other education study groups.
Two hundred educational leaders--representing governors, union officials, state legislators, parents, teachers, and businessmen--would be invited to participate. One-fourth of the participants would be selected by the President, one-fourth by the President from a list recommendations made by the governors, one-fourth by the Speaker of the House, and one-fourth by the majority leader of the Senate.
Mr. Bell's proposed meeting would be attended by 1,200 participants drawn largely from the same ranks as those who would attend the Congressionally-sponsored event. The Education Department has not indicated how it intends to select those people, however.