Two new education financing schemes that President Reagan has under study--tax shelters for parents of college students and vouchers for parents of low-income children in elementary and secondary schools--met with lukewarm to negative reviews yesterday from the nation's education establishment.
The better received of the two was the so-called Independent Education Account, which would allow parents to defer taxes on income set aside in special savings accounts that could be drawn down to pay for a student's college tuition.
Spokesmen for groups representing colleges and universities said they would support the concept so long as it was "crystal clear that it would supplement rather than supplant the traditional student aid mechanisms," in the words of Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel to the American Council on Education, an umbrella group representing 1,600 colleges and universities.
However, there are no assurance that the sheltering proposal would be cast in such a supplementary role if the president proposed it, and there was a widespread wariness on this issue.
"This [proposal] is almost certain to be a replacement for new cuts in student grants and loans, and if it is we'd have to oppose it," said Peter Gossens, director of government relations for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
The administration has proposed reductions in various college student aid programs in each of the past two years. It is expected to try anew this year. Congress has gone along with some reductions.
If the reaction to the shelter plan was wary, the responee to the voucher plan was indignant.
The proposal under study for possible submission in the State of the Union address next week would allow local school districts to convert federal aid for poor students into vouchers that parents could use to send such students into either public or private accredited schools.
The vouchers would be alternatives under the $3 billion Title I program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides special mathematics and reading programs to 5 million students nationwide.
Title I is regarded by many educators as a success, and the reponse yesterday from both private and public schools was the same: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
"We would view with a great deal of alarm any effort to change the Title I program," said Robert Smith, director of the Committee for American Private Education, which represents most of the nation's private schools.
Title I programs are already offered to some 600,000 low-income students in private and sectarian schools.
"We're very satisfied with the way the current system is working," said Richard Duffy of the U.S. Catholic Conference. He expressed the concern that the voucher proposal might muddy his group's already stalled effort to push for tuition tax credits as a way to ease the financial burden on private school parents.