Bennett Attacking Opposition to Voucher Plan, Bilingual Changes

WASHINGTON—Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and his No. 2 official are mounting a double-barreled attack on the major school groups that are fighting his voucher plan and bilingual education policies.

Bennett charged Thursday that “knee-jerk” groups unwilling to listen to new ideas have orchestrated the opposition to vouchers.

And in a separate attack, Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer accused Washington lobbyists of using “scare tactics” to rally opposition to Bennett’s call for more flexibility in his $139 million bilingual education program.

The officials’ comments came as the Education Department unveiled proposed new bilingual education regulations. The proposals stress that school districts participating in the program have broad discretion over how much instruction to give in a student’s native language and how much in intensive English classes. The proposed regulations also emphasize that parents have the right to decide for themselves whether to keep their children in bilingual classes.

Bennett, in a speech Sept. 26, said the federal bilingual aid program had been a failure, with “no evidence that the children whom we sought to help … have benefited.”

Bauer said, “Some statements by Washington-based lobbyists appear to have as their goal the spreading of anxiety among parents and children. … This is the politics of fear and exploitation, and it is reprehensible.”

Bauer said the Education Department’s civil rights chief is sending school districts notices that they have the option of modifying their bilingual education programs. The Office for Civil Rights entered into agreements with more than 500 districts in the 1970s requiring them to offer classes in children’s native languages.

The proposed new rules will appear in Friday’s Federal Register and are up for public comment for 60 days.

James J. Lyons, legislative counsel for the National Association for Bilingual Education, said the Reagan administration “wasn’t misunderstood. Their record is clear. … It is in opposition to bilingual education and it is to minimize federal support and responsibility for children who need special help if they are going to succeed in school.”

Bennett held a news conference earlier with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Patrick Swindall, R-Ga., who introduced legislation to carry out the voucher plan Bennett unveiled last week.

Poor parents could take the vouchers worth an average of $600 a year to enroll their children in either private or public schools, including public schools outside their home district. It would be an alternative way of providing remediation under the two-decade-old, $3.7 billion Chapter 1 program.

The vouchers have been roundly criticized by teachers’ unions, school board groups and the nation’s chief state school officers. The National School Boards Association has called it “a Trojan horse” intended to destroy federal support for public schools.

“I’m tempted to say that the noise we’ve been hearing in Washington this last week is that of several dozen knees jerking at once, often in the service of bureaucratic self-protection,” said Bennett.

The voucher bill has drawn nine sponsors in the Senate and 32 in the House, all Republicans.

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