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Call for Free Postsecondary Education Questioned in Light of Federal Deficit

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Washington--The nation should consider entitling all students to up to four years of postsecondary education, according to Representative James H. Scheuer, chairman of the subcommittee on education and health of the Joint Economic Committee.

"No challenge facing our nation today is more urgent than the education deficit--our failure to provide millions of American students with the skills they need as citizens and workers," said Mr. Scheuer, a New York Democrat, in releasing a report on education by his subcommittee last month.

The report, entitled "The Education Deficit," is based on nine hearings chaired by Mr. Scheuer in the last Congress that examined competitiveness and the quality of the American workforce.

In addition to calling for a guarantee of four years of postsecondary education at a university, community college, or vocational school, the report also urges that preschool programs, such as Head Start, be made available to all children.

"It's a national disgrace that early-childhood programs are not available to all American children," Mr. Scheuer said. "Many of these children effectively drop out on their first day of school."

The lawmaker argued that the investment in expanded educational programs would yield a greater federal return in increased taxes on higher income, a more productive workforce, and reductions in social-service programs.

But at a hearing held in conjunction with the release of the report, several business, education, and political leaders questioned the feasibility of Representative Scheuer's plan in light of the federal budget deficit. They instead called for strengthening current federal programs to ensure that they are aiding the neediest.

"People are falling through the cracks of our financial-aid programs," said Gov. John R. McKernan of Maine, who termed the Scheuer proposal unrealistic.

John Brademas, a former member of the Congress who is now president of New York University, called on President-elect George Bush to use education as the issue to "forge constructive relationships with Capitol Hill."

By offering a program to improve education, Mr. Brademas said, the President-elect would have an opportunity to "rebuild the historic tradition of bipartisan support for teaching and learning in our country.''

He proposed expanding grant programs to take the place of student loans and called for programs to encourage families to save for college through savings plans and tax deferral of education expenses.

Michael L. Dertouzos, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's commission on industrial productivity, suggested that the Congress consider mandating federally administered exams at the end of the 6th and 12th grades to determine if what is being taught meets acceptable levels.

"I realize the concept of centralized tests is distasteful and alien," he said. "Yet it seems to work well in Japan, Korea, and in most nations of the European Economic Community."

The subcommittee report also recommended that:

The school day and year be lengthened;

Curricula concentrate on "higher-order" skills--reading, writing, mathematics, problem solving, and abstract reasoning;

Teachers be paid well, be allowed to participate in decisionmaking, and be held accountable;

Federal support be provided for research, development, demonstration, and information programs to strengthen elementary and secondary education;

School buildings be viewed as capital investments to be used for a wide variety of civic needs.

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