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Bennett To Spend Discretionary Funds On 'Content, Character, and Choice'

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Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett plans to spend about $2.3 million, most of the Education Department funds at his discretion, on activities that promote parental choice--such as pilot projects related to vouchers and tuition tax credits--as well as course content and character development, according to department documents.

Mr. Bennett's plans mark a sharp, if not unexpected, departure from the priorities set forth by his predecessor, Terrel H. Bell, who used the money in his discretionary account to support teacher-incentive initiatives and projects that fostered the integration of technology and education.

The Secretary would also be lending financial support to the extent possible to his main goals. In his first policy address as Secretary, delivered at the National Press Club in March, Mr. Bennett called the ''three C's"--content, character, and choice--"a new trilogy of ideas that ... must now supplement the three R's."

Mr. Bennett was to announce the funding priorities in the Federal Register this week. A draft of the announcement for the "Secretary's Discretionary Program--Field-Initiated Grants" was made available to Education Week.

Money Frozen

Although applications will be due in mid-summer, money will probably not be available until the fall, department officials say. The $31.9- million in the Secretary's Discretionary Fund remains frozen by court order in a dispute involving federal funds for desegregation of Chicago's public schools. (The money to support the "three C's" is the amount in the fund not already earmarked for other purposes.)

The dispute, which the U.S. Su-preme Court last month declined to review, involves a federal district judge's order freezing the funds until the Education Department provides Chicago with $103.8 million in school-desegregation aid this year and similar amounts in subsequent years, under the terms of a 1980 consent decree in the school district's desegregation suit. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984.)

A new ruling on the case by U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen is expected this summer, according to a department lawyer.

Choice Encouraged

In soliciting proposals on "evaluation, research, demonstration, planning, and dissemination" to promote parental choice, Mr. Bennett suggested nine areas of inquiry.

Besides state or local voucher and tax-credits initiatives, they include: a survey on questions relating to choice and the impact of increased parental involvement in education; special transportation services to facilitate parents' selection of schools; administrative procedures for allowing state and local education dollars to "follow" pupils; the prospects for greater equity for the disadvantaged through choice; and alternatives to help high-school dropouts and other "high-risk'' students.

Character, Content

Joining the ongoing debate on whether and how schools should transmit values, Mr. Bennett said he wants to fund projects that foster "wholesome" student character, including "love of country."

Schools, the draft says, should encourage "such qualities as thoughtfulness, kindness, honesty, respect for the law, knowing right from wrong, respect for parents and teachers, diligence, self-sacrifice, hard work, fairness, self-discipline, and love of country," according to the draft announcement.

The types of character-related projects that could receive money from the Secretary's fund would include these: the use of history, literature, or other academic subjects to promote character development; and the establishment of clear goals and policies that "respect and support values from the student's home" and encourage attendance, academic excellence, and an orderly, drug-free environment.

To improve curricular content--the "substance" of what students are taught--Mr. Bennett would finance activities to upgrade textbooks and teaching materials.

He also seeks "the development of projects that would allow the public to identify essential knowledge--for example, literary works or historical events that should be familiar to every child."

Moreover, his particular interests in content are American historical documents, literary classics, and "works central to the development of Western thought and civilization."

Suggested Awards

Acknowledging that the discretionary fund is limited, Mr. Bennett suggested these limits for grant requests: $25,000 for planning activities; $75,000 for evaluation, research, and dissemination; and $150,000 for demonstration projects.

The announcement for the Federal Register was written by a working group headed by Wendell L. Willkie 2nd, Mr. Bennett's chief of staff. Mr. Willkie was represented on the panel by Bruce Carnes, a special assistant to the Secretary. Other members represented the offices of the undersecretary; planning, budget, and evaluation; and elementary and secondary education.

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