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Gingrich Goes on the Record: Abolish the Education Department

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Washington

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., called for the abolition of the Education Department--apparently for the first time publicly--at a conference of private-college leaders held here last week.

"I do not believe we need a federal department of homework checkers," the Speaker told the college presidents and other administrators attending the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent College and Universities.

Mr. Gingrich said that although he was one of just a handful of Republicans who had voted in favor of starting the department, he has since found it to be "an enormous disappointment" that has increased red tape.

The Speaker joins other prominent conservative critics in calling for the abolition of the department, and at least one bill is being prepared that would eliminate the 15-year-old agency.

In his first remarks devoted entirely to education, Mr. Gingrich also voiced support for giving private school vouchers to public school students, and for rethinking how the school day and calendar are organized. And he called for making some five million Library of Congress documents available on the Internet computer network through a "national digital library program."

"This would allow even the poorest high schools in America to access the largest collection of Americana," he said. "And all it will cost you is the telephone line."

He also proposed that colleges be allowed to charge high schools for the cost of remedial classes for students who arrive unprepared for college-level work.

"I just don't think that's realistic, Mr. Speaker," one college president said.

"My being Speaker's not realistic," Mr. Gingrich retorted.

The Speaker also said that he was "personally, unalterably" opposed to the new direct-college-loan program; expressed skepticism about Pell Grants, which he said are awarded indiscriminately; and urged that students receiving aid should be required to work for it.

He seemed to backtrack, however, after hearing several college leaders' stories of students who are already working 20 hours a week or more in federal work-study or other jobs, and who still cannot afford college.

Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich should suspend expansion of the Job Corps program and instead target violence, drug use, and other problems tainting its image, according to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan.

Ms. Kassebaum, the chairwoman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, also recommended that new corps members be better screened and that low-performing programs be audited.

In a Jan. 30 letter to Mr. Reich, Senator Kassebaum also called for a 30-day probationary period and drug testing for new members, greater accountability of local centers, and an "immediate and thorough review" of program management.

The rebuke followed hearings last month that were often critical of the Job Corps.

"It is my hope that we can work with the Administration in resolving these issues," Ms. Kassebaum said.

The Job Corps is a federally financed, residential job-training and education program for low-income youths. Some 60,000 young people enter the program annually at 111 centers in 44 states, according to Labor Department data.

Department officials could not be reached for comment on Ms. Kassebaum's criticisms.

In their campaign to reform the welfare system, Republican leaders are ignoring an excellent avenue of attack: fostering better access to family-planning services, a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute argues.

In the "Contract With America," House Republicans have recommended denying public assistance to children born to unwed mothers under age 18 as well as aid for additional children born to mothers already on welfare.

But the report by the New York City-based family-planning-research group says that 60 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Increasing contraceptive and abortion services to poor women, therefore, is a far better way to reduce unwanted births and dependence on government aid, the report argues.

Copies of "The Politics of Blame: Family Planning, Abortion, and the Poor" are available for $20 each plus postage from the institute, 120 Wall St., New York, N.Y. 10005.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee will operate in the 104th Congress with about three-quarters of the budget it had over the previous two years.

The amount the committee will spend over the next two years--just over $4 million--is "adequate to conduct our activities effectively and professionally," said Senator Kassebaum, who chairs the committee. That amount represents a reduction from the $5.3 million the committee budgeted in the 103rd Congress.

--Meg Sommerfeld, Jessica Portner, & Mark Pitsch

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