Bell Tells State Legislators Not To Expect Increased Federal Funds
Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told a group of state legislators meeting here last week not to expect substantial increases in federal aid for educational-improvement efforts.
Repeating a theme that he first raised during this month's national forum on education, the Secretary instead advised the legislators to use their spending authority as a "carrot" to induce local school officials to initiate reforms.
That message apparently did not go over well with several legislators attending the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual state-federal assembly.
"You talk about carrots, but in my state carrots are pretty expensive," a member of Connecticut's House education committee told Mr. Bell.
Earlier during the three-day session, state representatives and senators complained in interviews that the federal government was not only refusing to spend additional money for state and local reforms, but was also cutting or proposing to cut back its own budget in areas it cites as central to the federal role in education.
Of particular concern, they said, were reductions or proposed reduc-tions in spending for educational research, civil-rights enforcement, and aid to the handicapped and disadvantaged.
The legislators also said the Secretary's National Commission on Excellence in Education had erroneously portrayed the states as having done little to enhance the quality of education.
"The commission's recommendations are years behind many of our states," said State Representative Larry Hawkins of Florida. "They're saying, 'Wait a second, there's a problem here,' but they don't seem to realize that we have been working on some of these problems for more than five years now."
"We feel that state and local concerns are being addressed, but federal concerns are not," added State Representative Wilhelmina Delco of Texas.
"The Administration's focus is to talk about state and local problems, like discipline and alcohol abuse, and not to talk about things that it finds unpleasant, like problems in civil rights and research," she said.
'More Effective Education'
During his speech, Secretary Bell acknowledged that "it is easy for me to stand here and talk about reform and hard for you to make the right moves in the legislatures."
But, he added, "the complexity of 1984 and beyond demands that we have more effective education than ever before." Mr. Bell said that as a result of his travels across the country during the past year, he senses that taxpayers are willing to spend more money for education, "but they aren't willing to accept more of the same."
When asked why the Administration prefers not to devote a larger portion of the federal budget to education, Mr. Bell responded that such a move would add to the $200-billion-plus federal deficit and thus would force interest rates higher.
Furthermore, he said, "we would heve to raise federal taxes to bring more money into the federal coffers, and we are not inclined to do so."
"Education needs to remain primarily a state responsibility," Mr. Bell said. "It is just as painful to raise taxes at the federal level as it is at the state level."
The Secretary, however, told the legislators that they could expect ''a small initiative or two" in the fiscal 1985 budget that would be somehow related to the Chapter 2 education block-grants program. He declined to elaborate on this proposal. (See related story on page 1.)