President Reagan has abandoned his campaign to abolish the Education Department, thanks to Congressional resistance and the job performance of Secretary William J. Bennett, the President said in an interview published last week.
Mr. Bennett has "certainly made [the department] more bearable,'' Mr. Reagan told the New Hampshire Sunday News and Union Leader.
"If in the future we have secretaries of education who will not take advantage of that position to impose federal interference on what is mainly and principally a state and local function, why, then things will be all right. And that is what Secretary Bennett has done.''
"When you stop to think,'' Mr. Reagan added, "that the federal government only provides 7 percent of the total cost of education, but for years was insisting on far more than 7 percent right to regulate and impose its will on education, it wasn't a healthy situation.'' Abolition of the department was high on some conservatives' agenda at the outset of President Reagan's first term, but the idea found little support on Capitol Hill.
When the issue threatened to delay Secretary Bennett's confirmation in February 1985, Mr. Reagan provided assurances that, while "federal educational programs could be administered effectively without a Cabinet-level agency,'' he would not propose any change "at this time.''
Last week, the President acknowledged that he had learned in past skirmishes over downgrading the department "that there was no way that Congress on either side [of the aisle] was going to budge on that issue.''
Echoing one of Secretary Bennett's themes, Mr. Reagan suggested that "value free'' education may account for the recent spy scandal at the United States Embassy in Moscow, where four Marines have been accused of trading state secrets for sexual favors.
He criticized "the trend of recent years'' of schools avoiding the teaching of "issues of right and wrong or anything having to do with morality. Is this maybe now being reflected in some of our young people?''
In passing the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act last fall, the Congress required school districts receiving federal aid for efforts to identify and clean up the cancer-causing mineral to send suspected asbestos samples to accredited laboratories for analysis.
But another part of the new law severely limited administrative expenses for the program. As a result, a federal accreditation process has yet to get off the ground. This oversight, according to the House Appropriations Committee, could have a "crippling effect'' on the federal program of asbestos loans and grants, which distributes nearly $50 million each year to schools.
This week, in action on a supplemental appropriations bill, the full House is expected to vote on a committee proposal to resolve the legal contradiction. The measure would authorize $2 million annually to enable the National Bureau of Standards to establish and maintain accreditation standards for laboratories that test asbestos samples.--J.C.