U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett criticized school districts with weak student expulsion policies yesterday and told a congressional committee that the only way to get rid of drugs in schools is to "kick out" students caught using or selling narcotics.
Saying that drug use among secondary and college students is widespread, Bennett suggested that the federal government should "get tough" with school boards by withholding funds from school districts that fail to reduce drug abuse.
He also criticized the D.C. public schools, where police recently arrested about 20 students on charges of selling drugs, for lacking an expulsion policy. "Right now, the strongest penalty [D.C.] and many other school districts will give student dealers is a 10-day suspension. That only ensures . . . that the students will be greeted as conquering heroes when they return," he said.
Bennett, speaking before the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, said that many schools across the country have drug awareness programs, but are still "awash in drugs" because adults have failed to take action.
"What we want at the Department of Education is to get drugs out of schools. Right now, no ifs, ands or buts. We strongly support drug education programs, [but] almost every school in this country has a drug education program, [and] we are still awash in drugs. We need to get tough and we need to get tough as hell," said Bennett, who has praised educators who identify youthful drug abusers and have them arrested.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who chaired the hearing, strongly criticized Bennett for using less than 1 percent of the Education Department's $16 billion budget to fight drug abuse and for not creating a model curriculum that could help reduce the rate of drug use among youths.
"Mr. Secretary . . . this committee for years has been dealing with law enforcement people -- drug enforcement, FBI, U.S. attorney's office, customs, everything -- and they tell us what we have to do is deal with the areas of education and prevention. Now you tell us . . . enforce the law.
"Kicking [students] out is easy. I know how to do that and I'm not an educator," Rangel said.
Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), a committee member, agreed with Rangel. "Kicking them all out isn't going to solve the problem," he said. "That's not educating the kids, that's just scaring the hell out of them and hoping that some of them are not going to use drugs."
Rangel and Gilman urged Bennett to allocate more funds to drug prevention, but Bennett maintained that "community support, not money" is needed to fight drugs.