Federal File: Official disagreement; 'Wall chart' scrap; Legislative relief; Of logs and schools

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Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week disagreed with his predecessor, William J. Bennett, about the importance of drug-education programs.

In February, Mr. Bennett,

now serving as the national drug-policy director, told a Senate committee that education programs are but a "helpful auxiliary" in the fight against drugs and that children are more likely to respond to tough law-enforcement policies.

When questioned last week by members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control about Mr. Bennett's testimony, Mr. Cavazos said: "Education is the only solution to the war on drugs. It is not an auxiliary."

"I must admit that when I read that report, I was surprised," he continued. "Perhaps Mr. Bennett may have had something else in mind."

Asked who speaks for the Bush Administration on the issue, Mr. Cavazos said: "My sense is that I clearly have the strong support of the Administration with this viewpoint."

Representatives from education groups have been free to attend the Education Department's annual "wall chart" news conferences, and, for years, some of them have delivered news releases stating their organizations' views of the chart into the waiting hands of reporters.

But regulations forbid the distribution of written material inside federal buildings.

And a conflict at this year's event between a representative of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing and a public-affairs official, who ousted him from the room, has caused the department to reconsider its open-door policy.

John Bertak, director of news and information in the public-affairs office, said he asked guards to remove Bob Schaeffer, public-education director for FairTest, because he was violating the regulation.

But Mr. Bertak acknowledged that representatives of other groups had distributed information at the May 2 event, as well as at past wall-chart unveilings.

"I don't necessarily have an answer for that," he said.

Mr. Bertak said he singled out Mr. Schaeffer because he was standing "immediately outside the doorway" and "impeding traffic."

He said he could not remember why he similarly singled out Jay Goldman, who was then a spokesman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, at the 1989 wall-chart conference.

"He physically pushed me out," Mr. Goldman said.

Mr. Bertak denied that the content of the missives was a factor, and that appears to be true. FairTest's release was critical of the wall chart, but so were some of the others. And Mr. Goldman said the statement he was distributing last year "was actually quite supportive."

Mr. Bertak said the department's policies on both the distribution of literature and the presence of nonreporters at news events are under review.

Legislation authorizing a study of Chapter 1, approved by the Senate last week, is of great interest to a certain rural Vermont school district--and not because it is eager to participate in the survey.

Senator James M. Jeffords, Republican of Vermont, persuaded his colleagues to add provisions to the bill that would absolve the district from repaying almost $800,000 in bilingual-education funds the Education Department claims were improperly spent.

The district, Franklin-Northwest Supervisory Union, received several bilingual-education grants between 1984 and 1986 to help American-born children from French-speaking homes overcome "residual bilingualism."

Department officials approved the concept. But the agency decided in 1987 that the students were ineligible for funds and demanded the money back.

Two separate audit cases against the district are pending in the department's administrative process and in a federal court.

But the Vermont Congressional delegation is hoping the House, which has already approved the Chapter 1 bill, will agree to the Senate amendments and render the decision moot.

"The district can't even pay its lawyer any more," said an aide to Representative Peter Smith.

Audit-reform legislation included in a 1988 omnibus reauthorization bill bars the department from recovering funds that were spent with its explicit approval. But the Vermont case was launched before the bill became law.

School Superintendent Judith Billings of Washington recently wrote to her state's delegation, urging them to protect school funding from a proposed ban on log exports.

If state-owned timber could not be sold outside the country, she said, it could cost the schools $300 million in construction funds over five years.

"The revenue from the state timber trust lands is essential to meeting the current and future housing needs of public school students," Ms. Billings wrote.

But Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley, Democrat of Washington, told reporters in Spokane that the Congress is unlikely to compensate the school-trust fund.--e.f. & j.m.

Vol. 09, Issue 34

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