The House and the Senate both went on record yesterday challenging recent Reagan administration attempts to revise Department of Education regulations governing programs for handicapped and disadvantaged children.
The House vetoed, 363 to 0, a set of regulations to administer the department's new block grant program and its law to aid children in poverty areas. The House Education and Labor Committee recommended the veto because the administration said that a law providing procedural protections to education programs didn't apply to the new rules.
The Senate passed, 93 to 4, a resolution saying it didn't want new proposals on the handicapped made effective until it has a chance to review them for a possible veto, perhaps not until next year.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on the handicapped, told Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell that the administration's attempts to cut financial aid to the handicapped made him suspect that the regulations would be put in place after Congress had adjourned for the year.
Bell fired back: "We're not about to pull any hanky-panky, Mr. Chairman. We're not up to any skullduggery on these regulations."
The secretary attempted to reassure skeptical subcommittee members that the administration's plans to revise the rules won't harm the nation's 4 million disabled children. The proposals have drawn heavy fire from groups representing the handicapped, and several subcommittee members added their criticisms yesterday.
Bell seemed hurt by the attacks. "I would never do anything knowingly that I felt would take away from" the responsibility of aiding disabled children, he said. He defended the changes as necessary to take some of the regulatory burden off state and local education officials and give them added flexibility in dealing with the law.
"We can't mandate every specific jot and diddle out of Washington," he said. He expressed a willingness to work with the subcommittee to explain the rationale for the revisions, and said, "I don't think you'll think the changes are as monstrous and damaging as you think they are now."
Sen. John P. East (R-N.C.), who is confined to a wheelchair, was the only subcommittee member present who endorsed Bell's call for flexibility. Sens. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) and Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the Education of the Handicapped Act of 1975, both criticized the proposed changes, and Stafford said the regulations should be withdrawn rather than amended.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he was especially concerned about proposals to diminish parents' rights to get their child evaluated and placed properly and to set limits on the "related services," such as medical treatment, that a school must provide a disabled student.
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) told Bell that a majority of the Senate shared his "protectionist position for special education. The burden of proof will be on you to show why these changes should come about."
As an example of "heavy-handed federal requirements," Bell cited a proposal to drop a rule calling for special evaluations of all children who might need special education. Ed Sontag, a Bell aide, said more than 1 million needless evaluations are being done every year.