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Federal File: Education fete; Not dead yet; Appointment watch; Count Cavazos in; Hometown politics

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Representative Augustus F. Hawkins was honored for his "lifelong commitment in support of education" at the Committee for Education Funding's fourth annual Congressional awards dinner last week.

The California Democrat, who is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, is the only person to have received two awards from the organization.

But Mr. Hawkins would like to change that. In his speech, he suggested that the award should also go to Representative William H. Natcher, the Kentucky Democrat who heads a key appropriations panel.

Both men received a "distinguished service award" last year from the cef

Is the Committee for Education Funding running out of honorees so soon?

"We sure wish there were more champions to throw bouquets at," one lobbyist said.

While the cef has honored Republicans, last week's fete had a definite partisan tone. Representative Dale E. Kildee, the Michigan Democrat who received an award for his service on education and budget committees, was the most direct about it.

"I'm still trying to teach," said Mr. Kildee, a former educator. "I'm trying to teach President Bush to be the education President. But he's a slow learner."

Mr. Kildee then noted that the other presidents who called the governors together for a summit spent money on the problems at hand afterward.

"But this is going to be a byo summit," he said.

President Bush's education initiative may not die in the House Education and Labor Committee after all.

Committee aides say that Representative Hawkins may be softening his criticism of the package, and that he has agreed to hold a second hearing on the bill.

"A lot depends on what the [Administration] can live without," said a Republican aide, noting that Mr. Hawkins is opposed to a new magnet-schools program to aid districts seeking to open such schools for purposes other than desegregation.

With the Bush Administration eight months old, the Education Department still has three top-level vacancies for which the President has yet to announce a nominee. But the department is apparently in better shape than many other agencies.

According to a survey by the House Democratic Study group, 55 percent of the federal jobs to be filled by Presidential appointees were vacant as of Sept. 18.

As of that date, 6 of 16 such education posts were open, a vacancy rate of 37 percent. Two more slots have since been filled, leaving 4 vacancies--a mere 25 percent.

Department officials say Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos sent his choices for all the posts to the White House months ago.

Still open are assistant-secretary positions in civil rights, vocational and adult education, and elementary and secondary education, and the directorship of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Nine top-level officials, including the Secretary, are in office; three more await Senate confirmation.

Secretary Cavazos met with higher-education representatives recently to tell them he will be actively involved when the Higher Education Act is reauthorized next year, and that he is interested in their opinions.

That might not sound momentous, but the department has a reputation for locking itself out of deliberations on programs it manages.

This spring, the Administration's proposals for the Vocational Education Act were sent to Capitol Hill the day a House panel approved its bill.

In 1986, the last time the hea was renewed, ed's plan did not arrive until the House had passed its bill and Senate panel members were poised to vote on theirs.

"I don't need to talk about previous track records on drafting legislation," Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, reportedly said at the Sept. 19 meeting.

Representative Major R. Owens said recently he has asked his staff to develop an amendment that would bar states from getting federal funding if they have "discriminatory" school-funding formulas.

Such an amendment would have broad implications, but it is probably aimed at education officials in the Democrat's home state of New York.

States that distribute school aid based on student-attendance counts, rather than on enrollment--as is the case in New York--are discriminating against inner-city students, "and they know it," he said.

Mr. Owens's district includes parts of New York City, where officials have complained for years that the state's attendance-based funding formula shortchanges the city's schools.

The lawmaker, who chairs the Select Education Subcommittee, made his remarks at a recent hearing.

Mr. Owens vowed to attach the amendment to "all education bills, and any other bills we can get it on."--ws & jm

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