One would hardly have expected such perfect harmony last month when Education Secretary William J. Bennett traveled to the Smithsonian Institution's Wilson Center to meet with Jose Maria Maravall, Spain's education minister. Bennett, after all, is an outspoken conservative in the Cabinet of President Reagan, while Maravall serves in the socialist government of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales.
But Bennett found plenty to applaud in Maravall's speech on "Education for Democracy in the 1980s." In fact, Maravall managed to use several key words and phrases that pop up in Bennett's speeches, including talk of "choice," "education as a crucial component of democracy" and "putting an end to centuries of government dependence."
Afterward, Bennett told Maravall that he was particularly interested in how Spain handles the issue of public and private schools, supporting both with subsidies while giving Spanish parents some choice of which schools their children attend.
In Spain, 90 percent of the private schools receive support from the central government in Madrid. Sixty-six percent of private schools are religiously affiliated, most tied to Spain's still-powerful Roman Catholic Church. With 6 million public school children, and 8 million spaces in public and private schools, Spanish parents have a good deal of choice in where to send their children, Maravall told the audience of scholars.
Spain's socialists are in the midst of an educational-reform movement, Maravall said, aimed at opening up the system, improving the curriculum and fostering democratic values. Bennett replied that Maravall's "pragmatic and nonideological approach" was symbolic of Spain's politics of compromise that, he said, "augurs well for the continued success of Spain's democracy and Spanish education."
The spirit of compromise was not as apparent on the American side of the aisle. The moderator for the evening was New York University President John Brademas, a former congressman who is one of Bennett's staunchest critics in the higher education community.
At the beginning of the evening, Brademas remarked that Bennett would have to leave the conference promptly at 8:30 p.m. whether or not he had the chance to speak to catch a plane to New York. Noting that the Big Apple was then keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Gloria, Brademas quipped, "I'm unsure whether I should delay the proceedings or not."
ANOTHER VICTORY ON TITLE I . . . Friday the department scored another victory in the battle over distribution of federal funds for remedial education to students in religiously affiliated schools.
The Supreme Court said in July that funds under the Title I program could not be used to send public school teachers into religiously affiliated schools. That ruling was quickly attacked by Reagan administration officials, and Bennett suggested the department might "support" local school districts that sued to delay compliance.
Bennett's first victory came two weeks ago, when a federal district court judge in New York agreed to give that city a one-year delay. Now in Missouri, the department has reached agreement with a private contractor to provide the Title I services to private-school children on "neutral sites."
Undersecretary Gary L. Bauer, through an aide, said, "We are very pleased we can assure the continuation of remedial service in Missouri . . . . Our succeess in Missouri, as well as the federal court's recent decision in New York . . . clearly demonstrate that the issues and problems involved in implementing the high court's decision vary from one state to the next."
A PROMOTION? . . . Hispanic leaders have been particularly upset with Bennett since he proposed restructuring the federal government's role in bilingual education. In a letter to Reagan yesterday, Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, recommended that Bennett, like Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler, be "promoted" to the position of ambassador. If no diplomatic posts are available, Yzaguirre added, "a permanent post in Antarctica might be appropriate."