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The Reagan administration is giving a new meaning to the Republican elephant: it never forgets a promise. Or so it seems again as the wheels start turning to abolish the Department of Education, just as Mr. Reagan said he would. Education Secretary Bell has suggested to the White House four different options for accomplishing the purpose.

Mr. Bell's favored plan -- to turn the department's functions over to a foundation of less than Cabinet rank -- is supposed to involve the familiar administration tactic of changing federal funding into block grants for state distribution. This could present the old problem of detaching responsibility for raising money from that for spending it.

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Yet oversight could be maintained without the departmental status that was brought about largely to fulfill the promise of the previous President. Mr. Carter's promise was to a union supporting him. Mr. Reagan's was to the public at large. If the public's interest is kept uppermost this time, the next president should not have to make yet another promise.

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