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E.D.'s Plan To Slash Funds for Drug Education Criticized

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WASHINGTON--The Education Department's proposal to slash funds for drug-abuse education by 50 percent was sharply criticized at a Congressional committee hearing late last month.

Members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control questioned department officials about the plan to reduce to $100 million the current $200 million allocated for anti-drug programs during the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

"Giving an initial grant in '87, and pulling out the rug from under them in '88, doesn't accomplish the purpose we're seeking,'' Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, Republican of New York, said.

The panelists also voiced concern that the department would not be able to distribute most of the money appropriated in this year's budget until August.

With much fanfare, and strong support from the Reagan Administration, the Congress adopted an omnibus anti-drug bill last fall. But within days of the signing of last year's appropriations bill, the Administration released its budget proposal for the 1988 fiscal year, including the lower figure for drug-abuse education.

'Nothing but a Philosophy'

The department has maintained that drug abuse can be fought with greater school discipline and that drug education is primarily a responsibility of the states and local school districts.

"We see nothing but a philosophy coming out of the Education Department,'' Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, said. "I don't care how much you don't like [the law]. I want to hear how you want to improve it.''

"You just can't say, 'Just say no,''' added Mr. Rangel, who is chairman of the committee.

But John P. Walters, special assistant to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, argued that the federal government was too eager to give out money before determining the most effective ways of fighting drug abuse. Mr. Walters said a strong anti-drug stance, not funds, was the key to an effective education program.

"What we need is a clear message,'' he said. "What we need to do is to get parents and school boards on the track.''

He added that federal regulations had prevented most of this year's appropriation from being distributed at an earlier date.

Earlier in the hearing, two educators and an expert on drug and alcohol abuse testified against the proposed budget cuts.

Gordon M. Ambach, state commissioner of education for New York, said it was difficult to attract skilled personnel for anti-drug programs without a way of guaranteeing their continued employment the following year.

"You cannot have success in this particular area unless you have a long-term commitment,'' he said.

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