For The Record
Following are extended excerpts of written responses provided by William J. Bennett, secretary-designate of education, to questions posed by members of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources as part of this month's confirmation proceedings.
Senator DeConcini: Would you please summarize your priorities for the Education Department for the next four years and, if possible, outline the steps you intend to take to achieve those goals?
Mr. Bennett: 1) Promoting Excellence: I propose to continue the national leadership initiated by the release of the report on the National Commission on Education.
I intend to speak out, as appropriate, in the areas addressed by the commission. These include curriculum content, standards and expectations, and the time devoted to learning, improving the teaching profession, and the responsibilities for leadership and fiscal support by elected officials and educators.
As the report indicated, promoting excellence includes a continuing federal reponsibility for aiding the educationally disadvantaged and handicapped as well as focusing renewed attention on educational reform. It also includes improving school discipline.
2) Expanding State and Local Control: I propose to continue this Administration's efforts to place as much responsibility as possible for the administration of federal programs at the state and local level.
The Chapter 2 block grant--which was one of the major accomplishments of the President's first term--consolidated 42 categorical elementary- and secondary-education programs into one block grant, allowing state and local officials to decide program priorities.
I would like to see further efforts towards increasing the discretion of state and local officials.
3) Increasing Parental Choice: I expect to push hard for enactment of tuition tax credits and educational vouchers: measures designed to increase the choices of American families.
Tuition tax credits would provide tax equity for working families who now have a double burden to support both public- and private-school costs.
Chapter 1 vouchers would permit parents of educationally disadvantaged children to use vouchers to send their children to whatever school provides the best compensatory-education program.
4) Encouraging Parental Responsibility: I believe parents need to continue to assume the primary responsibility for financing their children's postsecondary education. This is an area in which the federal government is increasingly displacing the role of the parents.
In this regard, I support the Administration efforts to require parents to assume a greater share of college costs before federal grant aid can be awarded, to curb the abuse of the definition of "independent student" in the awarding of federal student aid, and to encourage parents to save for the costs of a college education for their children through the enactment of Education Savings Account legislation.
5) Requiring Student Self-Help: I believe that, in addtion to the responsibility of the parents, the student should assume a greater share of college costs.
Although, today, many students do work and borrow to help finance their postsecondary education, too many students rely on the federal government to help finance education, of which they are the principal beneficiary.
6) Improving Federal Stewardship: I believe the federal education establishment itself should be as efficient and accountable as possible.
During the President's first term, much progress was made. The department's employment was reduced 32 percent--the largest reduction of any federal agency.
There were major reductions in regulatory burden and paperwork; collection of loans increased dramatically; and the department was well on its way to complying with most of the recommendations of the Grace Commission.
I propose to continue these management initiatives and, in addition, to examine ways to restructure and/or streamline the organization of the department.
There are, of course, other areas of special concern, including reducing adult illiteracy, promoting federal private-sector initiatives, and publishing comparisons of state educational expenditures and sat-act scores. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive of the department's principal priorities as I see them at this time.
Senator Stafford: Does compensatory education work?
Mr. Bennett: The data show that Chapter 1 has had moderate success in improving the basic skills of students participating in the program.
It is my understanding that, according to the 1982 Sustaining Effects Study, Chapter 1 students gain more than similar students who do not receive Chapter 1 services, in both reading and mathematics. Although significant, those gains are not enough for the Chapter 1 participants to 'catch up' with nondisadvantaged, non-Title I students. Over time, Chapter 1 has produced some sustained benefits for the program participants, particularly in reading, but students receiving remedial mathematics instruction often regress when Chapter 1 support is removed.
More recent state data from the 1982-83 Chapter 1 Evaluation and Reporting System indicate that modest gains are found in all grades for mathematics and in all grades except 11 and 12 for reading. Academic gains for Chapter 1 students at the high-school level tend to be lower than for those in the elementary and junior-high grades.
Senator Stafford: Would you recommend designing a voucher system for the Chapter 1 program?
Mr. Bennett: As you know, the Administration introduced a bill during the last Congress that would give states and local education agencies the option of providing Chapter 1 compensatory-education services through a voucher mechanism. I support that legislation.
Senator Kennedy: As Secretary of Education, what would you do to reverse [the rising number of high-school dropouts]?
Mr. Bennett: I, too, share your concern about our national dropout rate. I am certain that this dropout rate is largely responsible for the frightening increase in adult [il]literacy and, of course, a contributing factor to crime, broken homes, and even child abuse.
The dropout rate is a national problem, and while the Education Department can play a meaningful role in focusing attention on the problem, many of the solutions will come and should come from local school officials and community groups. ...
Senator Kennedy: You have been reported as supporting the elimination of categorical aid programs, such as impact aid, subsidies for the handicapped and bilingual education, and favoring more federal block grants to states and localities. Is this true?
Mr. Bennett: I do believe that federal support to states and localities should increasingly take the form of block grants. At the same time, I also believe that the federal government has, and should have, a continuing responsibility for the special populations referred to in the question. Accordingly, any substitution of block grants for categorical-aid programs should only take place in a manner which does not adversely affect these populations, ensuring that these continuing federal responsibilities for special populations are fully met.
Senator Stafford: What is your commitment to the Chapter 2 program? How do you feel it is working? What spending level would you like to recommend for Chapter 2--should we be increasing our commitment or not?
Mr. Bennett: ... There are some programs which should not be block- granted because of the special services that are provided to a unique problem or population. I am aware of studies that both support and oppose the track record of the Chapter 2 block grant. My initial reaction is that this has been a successful pro-gram. I look forward to examining the Chapter 2 program to see whether or not it is sufficient for current services and make sure that the program is operating efficiently and truly doing what it was originally intended to do.
Senator Stafford: Do you feel that school districts have used Chapter 2 funds with little imagination? Has too much been spent on materials and equipment? What do you think about the level of creativity and imagination that school districts have shown with Chapter 2 funding?
Mr. Bennett: I have not seen any detailed accounts of how states are spending their Chapter 2 funds. I would hope that school districts are not only being creative with the funds but are implementing programs and buying equipment that best serve the needs of the teachers and students. Local school districts should be using these funds to take care of problem areas or initiate programs to promote learning. I do think that local educators are aware of their needs and would rather have flexibility instead of numerous categorical programs, which may not help them.
Senator Stafford: Would you support a financial needs test for families whose children receive assistance under Public Law 94-142?
Mr. Bennett: I would not support a financial needs test for any family whose child receives assistance through P.L. 94-142. I believe that the federal government has a responsibility to assist states and local school districts in providing an education for handicapped and disabled children.
Senator Weicker: Please discuss your plans for the department's enforcement of civil rights under P.L. 94-142 and Section 504 [of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973].
Mr. Bennett: The department contains an office of special education and rehabilitative services, the entire staff of which is devoted to effective and efficient administration of P.L. 94-142 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Of course, this responsibility includes compre-hensive monitoring, and providing oversight and technical assistance to states and localities regarding all provisions of the law including the civil-rights guarantees. ...
I assure you that I will undertake an analysis of the functions of these two offices regarding their respective investigatory and enforcement practices involving the handicapped. ...
Senator Kennedy: Do you support affirmative-action plans to remedy a finding of past discrminination?
Mr. Bennett: Yes.
Senator Kennedy: How do you square that answer with your view that race should never be taken into account in any government decisionmaking?
Mr. Bennett: I adhere to the principles articulated in my ... letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [in which he declined to set affirmative-action hiring quotas for the National Endowment for the Humanities], and believe that they should apply wherever possible within existing civil-rights law, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. As the letter observed, importantly, there has never been a finding of discrimination against the neh, either under my chairmanship or previously. The eeoc request, therefore, was clearly distinguishable from those situations where race-conscious remedies have been imposed in the context of a judicial finding of discrimination. I do, in general, believe that remedial action is appropriate to address the effects of past discrimination in various segments of American society, including educational institutions.
Senator Stafford: ... How would you ensure that the new [vocational-education] law's emphasis on program improvement, innovation, and expansion is carried out by the states?
Mr. Bennett: While the federal government has a role to play in the modernization of the vocational-education system, there is probably a limit to how much we should be expected to do. For instance, I have heard that many vocational educators in secretarial programs would like to have available one state-of the-art word processor for every student. To accomplish this on a national basis would be extremely expensive and probably unwise. ... Rather than attempt to modernize all vocational-education programs, it would be more appropriate to develop joint programs with industry in which students are trained by vocational instructors on equipment owned by private businesses for jobs in which those businesses actually have openings. ...
As for ensuring that the new law's emphasis on program improvements is carried out, the department has taken the position that funds under Title II-B of the act may be used to improve, expand, and modernize programs, but may not be used merely to maintain existing services or activities. Although this may be a controversial position, it is fully supported by the language of the Perkins Act. It would be my intention to monitor state plans and reports carefully to ensure that states comply with the terms of the legislation and regulations.