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Bell Urges Continued Support of Tax-Credit Bill

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week advised a group of private-school officials not to seek substantive changes in the Reagan Administration's tuition-tax-credit proposal.

"My main concern now is that we already have this bill out, that we got it through the [Senate Finance] Committee," Mr. Bell said of the Administration's proposal, S528. "I would not want to go through that process again. I urge that we hang in with this bill."

The Secretary defended the existing version of the bill, which would provide the parents of private-school pupils with tax credits of up to $300 per child by 1985, during a meeting of the Council for American Private Education here.

Both cape and the U.S. Catholic Conference recently proposed that the tax-credit bill be amended to allow families of public-school students to benefit from it. Leaders of the two groups have contended that such a move would increase the likelihood of Congressional approval of the bill and improve its chances of surviving any subsequent challenges in federal courts. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983.)

The organizations said that their position is based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this summer in Mueller v. Allen, in which the Justices upheld a Minnesota statute granting income-tax deductions to parents for educational expenses incurred in sending children to public or private schools.

During his talk with the cape leaders, Mr. Bell said that if amendments can bring the bill more closely parallel to the Minnesota law, "I'd surely be open to that."

"I think that, as I talk to many senators, we may get some benefit from that because we'd answer some of their objections," Mr. Bell said. "But there's an emotional response to this legislation. Some people always tend to go for your throat. ... I'm concerned about going back through [the Senate Finance Committee] with this bill," he said. "Pragmatically, we need a bill. For heck's sake, let's get a bill out."

The main problem faced by supporters of tax-credit legislation, Mr. Bell continued, is finding "a timely vehicle" to which to attach the proposal as an amendment.

He noted that he and the President recently sent letters to the bill's sponsor, Senator Robert J. Dole, Republican of Kansas, requesting that it be attached as an amendment to S1285, the initiative in mathematics and science education. Senators who have been shepherding that legislation through the chamber, however, have indicated that they hope to protect it from amendments that could harm its chances of passage.

Other Senators have also pointed out that the cost of the tax-credit measure--now estimated at $526 million per year when fully implemented, assuming that private-school enrollments remain stable--could increase substantially if the parents of public-school students are allowed to benefit from it.

"We hope we get the response we need to get" from the Senate leaders, Mr. Bell said. "I want to emphasize that I probably talk to the President about this legislation more than any other item. He is firmly committed to getting this bill passed."

The President, meanwhile, sent a telegram to some 265 Catholic diocesan school superintendents meeting in Denver reaffirming his support for tax credits.

"I pledged to your leaders on April 7 and again on Sept. 16, and I repeat to you today, that I will do all I can to see S528 enacted into law," Mr. Reagan said in his message to the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education.

"Parents have the right and responsibility to have their children educated in accordance with their own values," Mr. Reagan continued. "A tuition tax credit will go a long way toward making this right a reality for parents of modest means."

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