Public debate continues over federal mandate in schools

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Scott Thompson is executive director of the 35,000-member National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). His organization, along with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), originally opposed the creation of the Department of Education.

''We now believe, as does the AFT, it is absolutely essential that public as well as private education have a 'bloody pulpit,' '' Mr. Thompson said. ''Given the influence of the media, it takes a national spokesman at the cabinet level to represent the interests of education. NASSP is much more interested in this than we are in dollar amounts or block grants.''

''Budgetary cutbacks are not the result of block grants, but a philosophic and political decision to spend resources elsewhere, especially defense.''

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''But,'' Mr. Thompson asks, ''How can Secretary of Defense Weinberger talk about military personnel and defense needs in the high-technology setting of modern warfare without considering the students he gets from the country's schools. And we can't assess our economic strength, or our ability to export, without assessing our workforce skills.''

Michael D.Edwards a legislative specialist with the National Education Association, which represents l.7 million teachers, says:

''It is hard to anticipate how much support the department can hold onto under the present administration. Education didn't fare well, but the administration couldn't do what it wanted, either. The final 1982-83 department budget with supplementary appropriations will be $14.7 billion. They were talking about figures of $4 billion two years ago.

''We see the proposal to form a national education foundation, like the National Science Foundation, a red herring and really a mask for doing away with any significant federal role in education.''

Terry Dolan of the National Conservative Politial Action Committee has a different perspective: ''Anytime the Department of Education turns over rights and responsibilities to the local communities, we're for it; we realize this may be the way to go for awhile, given the reluctance of Congress to abolish the department. But our position is that President Reagan should do what he said he would do in 1980 - eliminate the departments of energy and education.''

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