Bennett and House Panel Joust Over Aid for Drug Education

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WASHINGTON--Members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics jousted with Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last week over the adequacy of the Education Department's drug-abuse-prevention efforts.

Although committee members chastised Mr. Bennett for proposing cuts in drug-education spending in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, they were hard pressed to respond when the Secretary asked what they would like him to do, aside from requesting more money.

Also at the hearing, Mr. Bennett and his top assistant on drug-related issues, John P. Walters, won supportfrom several panel members for the Secretary's proposal to require greater accountability from schools receiving federal drug-prevention grants.

'Gross Failure' Charged

The department's proposed fiscal 1988 budget--which would reduce funding for drug programs to half the 1987 appropriation of $200 million--represents "a gross failure of leadership, a gross failure of understanding, and a gross failure of concern,'' Representative James H. Scheuer said in opening the hearing.

"I don't see leadership and commitment in the Administration's budget,'' said Mr. Scheuer, who filled in as chairman in the absence of Representative Charles B. Rangel, a fellow New York Democrat. "It isn't enough for the Administration to preach 'say no to drugs' out of one side of its mouth, and say 'no' to drug-education funding out of the other side.''

Mr. Bennett replied, "There's a hell of a lot more to leadership than standing up and asking to spend other people's money.''

"If I thought I could buy a solution to this problem by appropriating $1- billion, I would ask for $1 billion,'' he added later.

"Reasonable people can differ'' on what funding level is adequate, Mr. Bennett said, acknowledging that the Congress will probably appropriate more money than he requested. Still, he implored panel members to concentrate on the content and implementation of anti-drug initiatives.

In response to criticism that the department is not moving fast enough to implement the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986, which provided the anti-drug funds, Mr. Bennett noted that $93.8- million in drug-prevention money has been distributed so far, providing funds for projects in 42 states.

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Walters also provided a list of anti-drug programs now in the works, including grants for prevention efforts at colleges and universities; a public-service advertising campaign; teacher-training grants; awards for schools with successful substance-abuse programs; a guide to help parents and teachers evaluate anti-drug curricula; and the creation of five regional centers that will assist state and local agencies in establishing substance-abuse programs.

Proposed regulations for the programs have been published, and most grants are scheduled to be awarded in the fall.

A Mixed Review

Although panel members remained unconvinced that the Administration's anti-drug budget is sufficient, several lawmakers supported Mr. Bennett's call for more rigorous assessment of the programs it funds.

The Administration has proposed amendments to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act that would require schools receiving drug-education funds to collect data on the extent of student drug use, and provide proof that their programs are working--or have been improved--to qualify for continued funding. Mr. Bennett said such a requirement would ensure that the money was used effectively and would encourage schools to try new approaches.

Representative Charles E. Bennett, Democrat of Florida, introduced the proposed amendments on March 23. The measure, HR 1752, would also require applicants for funds to describe their schools' policies on drugs and alcohol, and "the disciplinary practices and procedures [they] will strictly enforce to eliminate the sale or use of drugs and alcohol on school premises.''

Secretary Bennett's praise for strict treatment of abusers of drugs and alcohol also received a mixed review from committee members.

"When we kick kids out of school, we just put them on the streets to be drug pushers,'' said Representative Benjamin Gilman, Republican of New York, expressing a sentiment echoed by several colleagues.

"I deeply resent [the implication] that all I talk about is throwing kids out of school,'' Mr. Bennett said. However, he added, schools must be tough on students who sell drugs, and education programs must be backed up by strict rules.

"A lot of schools have [drug-education] programs, and drug abuse is up,'' Mr. Bennett said. "Simply knowing something is wrong is not enough to change behavior.''

The Secretary praised the Anne Arundel County, Md., schools' policy of notifying police of drug offenses and requiring parents to participate in counseling, and he lauded Oregon state laws that limit drug offenders' ability to obtain driver's licenses.

Mr. Bennett also criticized colleges and universities for "looking the other way'' and failing to tackle campus drug problems.

Of 3,200 institutions of higher education that received letters from the department last year urging them to notify their students in writing that drugs would not be permitted on campus in the fall, only 12 complied, he said.

Vol. 06, Issue 38

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