NEA leaders charge Reagan policy biased against public schools

Leaders of the National Education Association (NEA) are charging that the REagan administration is biased against public schools and that federal budget cuts will cost 50,000 teaching jobs this year, the biggest drop ever.

Terry Herndon, executive director of NEA, painted a bleak future for education at a breakfast meeting with reporters Sept. 1. "The Reagan administration has operated with almost total disregard for the difficulties of public schools," he says, citing a "bias to enhance private education at the expense of public schools."

Hernon and NEA president William McGuire point to Mr. Reagan's support of tuition tax credits for parents who send children to private schools. "If that's not a bias, I don't know what is," Herndon charges. These tax credits are predicted to cost as much as $7 billion a year in lost federal revenues.

Leaders of the education association, which represents over half of the nation's 2.3 million teachers, called the tax credit proposal unconstitutional and bad public policy. They predicted, though, that it will fail in the current Congress mainly because of its high price tag.

Public schools could face the tightest financial crunch since the 1929 depression, Mr. Herndon warns. Not only are federal funds shrinking, but local tax measures, which pay for most of the cost of schools, face ad uphill political battle. "Only 20 percent of the voters have children in schools," he says. "That's the lowest in modern times."

Most hurt in the federal budget crunch will be programs for the poor, handicapped, young women, and non-English speaking students, says Mr. McGuire. Federal aid to education, totaling about $6 billion, has been targeted for those groups because local governments had often ignored their special needs, he said. It will be easier to turn their backs on these people again.

"This administration has yet to propose a solution" to public school problems , Herndon says, adding tha the solution for NEA's is "to get a new President [of the US]."

Fewer teachers will go out on strike this fall, Herndon predicts. He denied that the decline in strikes is related to the President's tough stand against striking air traffic controllers. He said that teachers this year are getting some settlements "faster and easier" than in the past.

"I am repulsed by the attitude toward PATCO [the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization]," Herndon says. There is, however, "no indication that it will stiffen" toward teacher unions.

The NEA leaders also said:

* Congress will probably block any Reagan effort to close the US Department of Education as a Cabinet-level agency. But at the same time, the administration has already downgraded the department by giving more authority to states (through less-regulated "block grants"), and by striking out certain federal regulations.

Many educators are ambivalent toward education secretary Terrel H. Bell, who has been admired in the past but who backs policies considered unfriendly to public schools.

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