President Carter's proposed Department of Education could give the federal government a stranglehold over educational policy at all levels, critics charged yesterday at a House hearing.
Rep. John Erlenborn (R-Ill.), outspoken foe of the Carter proposal to create a separate Cabinet-level department, said it would "mean more federal domination regardless" of claims to the contrary by Carter budget director James McIntyre.
Erlenborn also declared that the electorate clearly wants to "conserve the resources of the taxpayer," and creation of the department will inevitably lead to added financial aid programs and "hiring of more and more people" to administer them.
Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.), like Erlenborn a member of the House Government Operations subcommittee on legislation, said concentration of education programs in a new department "will take that flow of power from state and local government and bring it up here to the federal level."
The proposal was also attacked by the AFL-CIO.
Legislative director Ken Young said the separation of education could break up the labor, welfare and civil rights lobbying coalition and lead to a reduction of aid to urban poor and minority groups.
However, budget director McIntyre insisted that creation of the new department would not add any powers to those already possessed by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and other agencies that currently administer the programs to be united in the department. Nor would it necessarily mean more money for education grants, he said.
"These federal policies, roles or degrees of control can only be changed by the votes of a majority of both house of Congress -- the elected representatives of the people," McIntyre said. "A Department of Education cannot increase federal control. The tradition of state and local control over education is fundamental to the strength of our system and will not be changed by a reorganization." He said a new department would give education more influence in the White House than it has now, when no one person speaks for it with Cabinet status.
Linda Albert, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association, agreed with McIntyre that the new department would not mean federal domination. In fact, it would mean less federal control, she said, speaking for the National School Boards Association.
At present, she said, local school boards are pressed by encroaching demands from numerous federal middle-and low-level bureaucrats who have "personal educational agendas." With a Cabinet-level secretary, the local educators would have a place to complain and be listened to.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Commitee has already approved legislation creating the department, and the Senate is expected to pass the bill again, as it did last year. However, conservatives like Erlenborn, and some liberals who fear a department of professional educators would not be sensitive enough to the needs of the poor, have pledged an all-out fight in the House.