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Bilingual Panel, in Its Final Act, Recommends Federal Cutback

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Washington--The Reagan Administration's bilingual-education advisory panel has told the Congress that federal bilingual-education aid should be cut but that its own budget should be hiked by one-third.

But shortly after the panel completed the report that contains those recommendations, it was dissolved by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who intends to select 20 new members.

Anthony Torres, who had chaired the panel since last September, said he was told two weeks ago by Mr. Bennett's chief of staff, Wendell L. Willkie 2nd, that the new bilingual-education law--which the Congress passed last year and which prescribes a broadly representative panel--empowers the Secretary to name a new council.

Mr. Torres said in an interview that he and other members whose three-year appointments had not expired had not intended to resign from the panel and had not expected to be asked to do so.

There was no indication last week when the council would be reconstituted.

Annual Report

The funding recommendations are made in the ninth annual report of the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education, dated March 1985 and sent to the Congress last month. The council members are selected by the Secretary of Education to advise him and the director of the office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs on policies and regulations.

To encourage local school districts "to go it alone once federal funding is reduced or withdrawn," the panel wrote, obemla "should scale down aid to all state education agencies, beginning in fiscal year 1985." The Congress approved $173 million for bilingual education in the current fiscal year.

Because the new bilingual-education law, P.L. 98-511, calls for the panel's membership to grow from 15 to 20, "with no diminution in its responsibilities," the panel contended that the expansion "justifies a 33.3-percent increase" in its $117,000 budget.

States Seek More

The panel's recommendation to reduce funds under Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which authorizes spending for bilingual education, came despite evidence contained in its report that states need more money to teach a growing minority-language population.

The report quotes James R. Smith, deputy superintendent in the California State Department of Education, as saying such a reduction "would have a serious impact upon school districts in California at a time when the [limited-English-proficient] population is growing by 7 to 10 percent annually. Much of this growth is due to federal refugee and immigrant policy."

Officials in Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas are similarly quoted on the importance of continued federal spending.

The report "seems to be totally detached from reality," said James J. Lyons, legislative counsel for the National Association of Bilingual Education.

In an interview, Mr. Torres, who is superintendent of schools in Sauk Village, Ill., defended the recommendation to reduce Title VII funds. But he acknowledged that there is still a great need for the money. "We wanted to signal that everyone ought to be aware that at some point, states are going to be cut off from federal funding," he said.

Mr. Torres also explained the increase sought by the advisory council for its own budget. "If this council is going to be more than a dog-and-pony-show, then you have to pay the cost," he said, for such activities as field hearings, which encourage public involvement, and information dissemination.

Divisions on Council

In a cover letter transmitting the report to the Congress, Mr. Torres noted that "there are differences of opinion among council members as to the type of teaching methodologyp3that can best accomplish the objective of making students proficient in English."

Under the new statute, almost all federal aid must be used for transitional bilingual education, in which students learn subject matter in their native language until they are competent in English. But the law, for the first time, permits the use of federal funds for other, experimental teaching methods--for example, those in which students are taught in English using a special curriculum and by teachers who may not be bilingual.

The report quoted officials in Virginia and Washington State who supported this greater flexibility in the use of federal bilingual funds.

The council recommended that alternative methods of instruction be encouraged but did not advocate that the law be rewritten, as the Administration has proposed, to permit the use of federal money for them. Mr. Torres said the need to change the law is "implicit" in the recommendation.

The report by the panel--which under the old law was known as the National Advisory Council on Bilingual Education--also recommended more foreign-language instruction for American students; better coordination between the council and the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, an obemla-run resource center; and more efficient dissemination of the council's annual report.

The 67-page report describes the new bilingual-education statute, P.L. 98-511; discusses recent research; cites conditions in several states; summarizes last year's field hearings; and contains a statistical appendix and a glossary of terms. According to Mr. Torres, it cost about $4,000 to produce this year, compared with about $9,000 last year, because most of the work was done "in house" instead of by outside contractors.

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