WHEN THE Senate goes back to work today it will again plunge into the school busing controversy. Its pending business is a proposal that attempts not only to forbid federal courts to issue busing orders in most future desegration cases but also to roll back most of the busing orders judges have already signed.
Before the polemics that invariably accompany the phrase forced school busing get going, it might be useful to think for a moment about ordinary school busing. Historically, the school bus has been one of this nation's educational tools. It helped open educational opportunites for hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would have been left to inadequate, makeshift classrooms.
The school bus has also played a part in racial segregation and desegregation. It was the vehicle that transported black children past white schools and white children past black schools in the days of dual educational systems. It was also the vehicle utilized to help break down that dual system when the days of lawful segregation ended. The bus has been used with great success in some places to create quality, desegregated schools. It has been used to disastrous effect in others.
For all these different purposes, busing has almost always been forced: with few exceptions -- e.g., special schools -- children have not had much choice. The current flap about busing, then, is not because it is forced but because it has been misused by someone -- a judge or a local school board -- or is seen by those who are complaining to have been misused.
The remedy for this should be to correct the abuses, not to eliminate busing as a potential tool for relieving educational and racial problems. To attempt to wipe out existing busing plans, whether good or bad, as does the proposal now before the Senate, is reckless -- and probably unconstitutional. Judges as well as members of Congress know where busing plans have gone wrong and could solve the problems specifically where they exist. Congress can only make bad general rules.