President Reagan is considering proposing to Congress in the State of the Union message next week a new program under which parents could defer income taxes on money set aside in special savings accounts to pay for their children's college educations, according to administration sources.
These Independent Education Accounts, as they are tentatively called, would be comparable to the Individual Retirement Accounts under which taxes can now be deferred on income set aside for retirement.
The president is also considering proposing that Congress let local school districts use their federal school aid for the poor in what would amount to voucher systems, under which eligible families could each be given their share of the aid to be spent at the accredited public or private schools of their choice.
Aid to the poor is the largest federal school aid program.
Critics of public education have long advocated vouchers as a way of rewarding excellence and stimulating change. But voucher opponents say that they could undermine the public school system.
Administration sources indicate that Reagan also has under study, for possible inclusion in the State of the Union on Tuesday and submission to Congress thereafter:
* Several jobs proposals, including a further extension of unemployment benefits and new incentives to employers to hire so-called displaced workers whose industries have collapsed from under them.
* Related trade proposals, including a request for authority to negotiate further reductions in both tariff and non-tariff barriers to U. S. exports.
* A new omnibus crime bill like one that died in the last Congress plus a new national commission on organized crime. One name under consideration to head this is retired Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart.
In addition to the new college savings accounts and vouchers for elementary and secondary education, Reagan is expected to reaffirm his support for tuition tax credits to help defray college costs.
The college accounts are under study not just as an educational program--they would help families pay what for many has become one of their greatest costs--but also as a means of stimulating the savings needed to increase investment and future economic growth.
The college savings accounts have been discussed by the president's Cabinet council of economic affairs. It was not clear last night exactly how they might work, but one source suggested they might be limited to lower- and middle-income families.
Also unclear was how much money a family might be allowed to set aside each year. The limit on IRAs is $2,000 a year per wage-earner, $250 for an unemployed spouse.
Reagan is expected to spell out details of all his proposals in later separate messages to Congress.
White House officials are looking to the State of the Union, these likely later messages and the fiscal 1984 budget to help Reagan regain the political initiative that has seemed to be slipping from him in recent months.
As part of that effort, administration officials have been talking about new economic initiatives that could focus on what Reagan has described as "structural" problems in the economy and labor market, without adding to the already-tight budget.
They have been working for several months to frame what they hope will be seen as a "bold" agenda for him to present at mid-term that will supplement his existing economic program. They also are anxious that his proposals be perceived as "fair" with equal sacrifice for all.
Still another goal is to let Reagan take the offensive on the jobs issue by offering some new proposals that could fend off anticipated efforts by congressional Democrats to enact public works programs Reagan opposes.
To deal with the "structural" unemployment problem, defined by the administration in part as that job loss which has occurred in declining industries like steel because of foreign competition and new technology, Reagan is expected to ask Congress for new incentives to employers to hire those displaced.
He may also ask Congress to set up a retraining and possible relocation program for such workers, using existing federally funded state-run unemployment offices to help move them to areas where jobs exist.
Reagan also plans to appeal again to Congress to pass his enterprise zone legislation, which died in the last session. It is intended to provide jobs in deteriorating center cities. And he is considering proposing a further extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
In international trade, the president is considering a request to Congress for new negotiating authority to lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to American exports.
He is also considering creation of two new trade-related commissions. One would focus on how U.S. firms can export more goods. Another would suggest changes in international law that would open world markets to freer trade.
The president may also ask Congress to authorize modernization of the nation's ports, with the cost to be borne by "user fees." An earlier version of this proposal stalled on Capitol Hill.
The new education savings accounts would widen prospective deficits because they would defer tax collections. But if he goes ahead with the idea, Reagan is expected to argue that it is worth this because the education would enhance the nation's technological leadership in the future.
Reagan, who made some anti-crime proposals that failed to get through the last Congress, is expected to renew his push for legislation that would reform the bail system and the so-called exclusionary rule that limits admissible evidence in criminal trials. He may submit to Capitol Hill a new omnibus crime bill encompassing these and other proposals.
The school voucher idea has been around for years, but never tried extensively. The administration is considering giving local school districts the power to set up voucher systems with their aid under Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This aid now is about $2 billion a year.
The most controversial aspect of this as now evisioned is that the vouchers could be used to pay tuition at private schools as well as cashed in public institutions.
Sensitive to the perception that he has ignored the needs of minorities, Reagan is also expected to re-emphasize his support for civil rights next week. He is expected to commend the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which has often criticized the administration, and ask the Congress to extend the commission's authorizing legislation, which expires this year.