Reagan and Congress Poised To Launch War Against Drugs

By Debra Viadero & James Crawford — September 10, 1986 6 min read
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Rising public concerns about the potent cocaine derivative “crack,” the opening of schools, and the approach of mid-term elections have combined to place drug-abuse prevention high on the agenda of both the President and the Congress, as politicians return to the capital this week.

A long-awaited proposal from the White House, expected later this month, would divert up to $100 million from other Education Department programs to teach children about the dangers of illegal drugs, and fund a new federal assault on drug pushers near schools, according to Reagan Administration sources.

The President and Mrs. Reagan have scheduled a televised address to the nation on drugs for Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, in what could become a bidding war, Congressional Democrats are preventing for still-larger expenditures for drug-abuse prevention and enforcement.

Before lawmakers left town in mid-August, the House Education and Labor Committee approved a bill authorizing a three-year, $l.05-billion program of grants to school districts for educational efforts. The measure (H R 5378) is expected to win a strong bipartisan endorsement when the full House votes on it-probably in the next two weeks-according to an aide to the committee.

In the Senate, 35 Democrats led by Lawton Chiles of Florida are sponsoring an “emergency crack-control act” (S 2715) that would require Secretary of Education William J . Bennett to produce and distribute warnings about crack, the highly addictive cocaine derivative.

The proposal incorporates a bill introduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller 4th of West Virginia that would provide $250 million for districts’ drug programs over the next five years.

The House has approved an additional $11 million for audio-visual materials aimed at crack abuse, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to fund a $10-million project by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop curricular materials for elementary and secondary schools.

White House Plans

President Reagan, with the encouragement of Secretary Bennett, expressed interest in a federal anti-drug initiative at a Cabinet meeting shortly after the cocaine-related death of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball star, on June 19, according to an Administration source

Through a White House task force, representatives of the Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services departments began submitting ideas for a “zero tolerance act.” Proposals focused on increased enforcement to dry up the supply of drugs and educational efforts to stem demand.

But bureaucratic rivalries soon emerged, the source said, when the Office of Management and Budget set a tentative ceiling of $200 million in I new appropriations and the departments began competing to have their projects funded. A long delay ensued.

Mr. Bennett had sought $100 million in aid to districts’ anti-drug programs, said a source close to the Secretary, and believes that such grants are “badly needed enough that he’d be willing to shift money” from other education accounts, such as Chapter 2 block grants.

The department, however, opposes a multi-year appropriation or the creation of “a new program that Congress might pour more money into” in later years, the source added.

Other likely provisions in the White House proposal reportedly include the hiring of additional assistant U.S. attorneys and Drug Enforcement Agency personnel. Secretary Bennett, in recent statements, has hinted that such additional resources would strengthen enforcement of a section of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 making it a federal offense to distribute drugs within 1,000 feet of a school building.

Even before its release, the Administration’s plan has been criticized for trying to fight drugs “on the cheap.”

“‘The rhetoric coming out of the Education Department and the White House isn’t really matched by a $100- million, one-year program,” said a House Democratic staff member who helped draft the Education and Labor Committee proposal. “If this is war, that’s not how to wage it.”

Administration sources have maintained that $350 million a year for three years is far too much to “throw at the problem” at a time of record budget deficits and the threat of mandatory cuts under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law.

In response, the committee aide denied that H R 5378 is “a budgetbuster.” He argued that the bulk of the funds could not be spent before the 1987-88 school year and that the Congress would have to vote each year to fund the program.

Besides grants to districts, the measure would instruct the Education Department to mount a campaign of public-service announcements, promote model programs for drug-abuse prevention, and create a clearinghouse for curriculum materials.

The department now provides $3- million to assist districts in drug-abuse prevention through the Secretary’s discretionary fund. This appropriation largely goes to support five regional centers that train drug-abuse coordinators from state and local educational agencies.

The limited funding allows the centers to accept only about one in three applicants for a one-week training course, according to an aide to Senator Chiles, who favors expanding this program.

In a punitive measure, the House last month approved an amendment to the E.D. appropriations bill for fiscal 1987 instructing the department to curtail funds to districts failing to sponsor drug-abuse-prevention programs. The measure, sponsored by Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr” Republican of Florida, passed hurriedly on a voice vote.

Senator Paula Hawkins, another Florida Republican, is expected to I propose the same amendment when the Senate votes on the bill (H R 5233) this month.

Secretary Bennett is credited with originating the idea in a offhand comment he made before a House subcommittee last spring. But the administrative problems in enforcement.

Several educators have expressed concerns that the requirement is ill-considered and vague.

It could set a dangerous precedent, according to Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “When it comes to dictating curriculum,” he said, “I think that’s best left to state and local officials. They know the problems.”

But Scott Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, predicted that the Shaw Amendment would “have no effect,” estimating that nearly 100 percent of schools have some kind of drug-education program in place.

The measure, he said, “is just an expression of an uninformed Congress; it’s a good headline grabber.”

E.D. Employee Charged

Meanwhile, Secretary Bennett sent the following memorandum to his own subordinates on July 17:

“As you know, I have called on the schools, colleges, and other institutions to take strong measures against the use of illegal drugs .... I can ask no less of each employee of this department .... We have a particular obligation to set an example for the students, parents, teachers, and school administrators of America.”

The memo followed a grand-jury indictment earlier this year of an E.D. employee in Boston on charges involving the possession and distribution of cocaine. The defendant, a mid-level career official in the office for civil rights, has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of I criminal proceedings, according to a department spokesman.

Mr. Bennett would have sent the memo anyway, regardless of the Boston case, according to his spokesman, Loye W. Miller Jr.

“please join with me to ensure a drug-free Department of Education,” the Secretary wrote, urging employees to report the use or sale of illegal drugs at work by calling an inspector general’s hotline. He added that employees with drug problems would be referred for “treatment and rehabilitation.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Reagan and Congress Poised To Launch War Against Drugs


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