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Heritage Foundation Offers Education Proposals

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Washington--Acknowledging that the Education Department will not be dismantled, the Heritage Foundation, an influential, conservative policy-research organization, has formulated policy prescriptions for the second Reagan Administration to turn the agency into a "minimum nuisance ... and yet [a] positive moral influence on the nature and quality of American education."

The recommendations are in the soon-to-be-released sequel to the foundation's celebrated 3,000-page 1981 tome, Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration.

The Reagan Administration sought to implement many of the proposals made in the original volume, including the abolition of the Education Department, and a number of the book's 250 contributors wound up with positions in the Administration. (See Education Week, Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, 1981.)

The 600-page sequel, Mandate for Leadership: Continuing the Conservative Revolution, is scheduled for release on Dec. 7.

'Historic Blunder'

The chapter on education policy, written by the foundation's education analyst, Eileen M. Gardner, maintains that the creation in 1979 of the Cabinet-level education agency was a "historic blunder" but concedes, "still, the department exists."

Mandate II, as new book is called, proposes 11 initiatives for 1985 to streamline the management of the department, to eliminate many of its enforcement powers, and to promote the education-reform movement.

The Administration should again encourage states to institute tuition tax credits and education vouchers and to publicize the issue of school prayer, Ms. Gardner writes.

Only one of the 11 specific recommendations requires Congressional assent, Ms. Gardner noted in an interview last week. Since the Congress remains virtually unchanged following the elections, she said, proposals that bypass the Senate and House seemed the most "doable."

'Three-Room Schoolhouse'

The education recommendations grew out of a "brainstorming session" last June between Ms. Gardner and other education policy analysts and Congressional aides whom she declined to name.

The resulting chapter in Mandate II says, "A suitably reformed Department of Education would resemble a three-room schoolhouse."

One room would disburse funds: "The goal would be to issue a small number of checks--though the amounts involved might be substantial. Essentially all elementary and secondary education aid should take the form of block grants to states and localities."

The second room of the schoolhouse would "house a small but outstanding statistical bureau," Ms. Gardner writes. To centralize the statistics-gathering and analysis operation, Mandate II proposes to abolish the National Institute of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and to combine their functions under a new assistant secretary for research.

The third room of the schoolhouse would "house a 'bully pulpit"' to promote a national debate on excellence and standards in American schooling. The book says, "Save for the National Commission on Excellence in Education, the Department of Education has been derelict in projecting a vision of what citizens might reasonably expect from their children's schools, teachers, textbooks and colleges."

Ms. Gardner adds that the department should relinquish many of its enforcement powers. Civil-rights enforcement, she writes, should be transferred to the Justice Department, and oversight activities related to federally financed programs would "automatically ease" once federal education aid is converted into block grants.

Suggested Initiatives

Listed at the end of the chapter are these specific proposals for the Reagan Administration:

Appoint a national commission to examine the effectiveness of federal education programs.

Encourage state initiatives to establish tuition tax credits and education vouchers.

Publicize state efforts to allow sanctioned prayer in public schools.

Obtain unitary declarations from school districts that can pass the two-part test on discrimination, and do not "harass" such districts if they pass the test, even if they are composed of a majority of one race.

Review the civil-rights regulations affecting education, with the goal of eliminating the effects-test wording. "Investigations and enforcement proceedings should be limited to concrete, specific acts of [intentional] discrimination," rather than when a program is thought to have a discriminatory effect, Ms. Gardner writes.

Enact legislation that would require students receiving federal financial assistance to adhere to minimum academic standards.

Appoint a Presidential commission on higher education to examine the purpose of postsecondary education and to suggest ways of fulfilling that purpose.

Merge the department's Office of Management with its Office of Planning, Budget, and Evaluation.

Merge the department's Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs with its Office of Legislation and Public Affairs.

Abolish or consolidate the department's regional offices.

Abolish the National Institute of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement and combine their functions into a new Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research.

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