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Democratic Alternative To Bush Plan Is Readied

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Washington--House Democrats plan to put a substitute proposal on the table this week that combines provisions of President Bush's education bill with initiatives of their own--and is likely to further inflame an unusually partisan fight over the measure.

Democrats on the Education and Labor Committee had not yet agreed on the content of the substitute package as of late last week. But it is likely to include provisions expanding the authorization levels for existing programs, such as Chapter 1, and may also include, in whole or in part, new proposals and reauthorizations now pending before the committee.

Aides said the panel's chairman, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, was to introduce the measure March 26, and a hearing is planned for March 29.

That hearing could be a raucous one, for the committee's Republicans are still angry over their Democratic colleagues' vote along party lines March 7 to postpone consideration of the Bush package. That bill, HR 1675, was to have been marked up by the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education. (See Education Week, March 14, 1990.)

"I saw for the first time in 16 years the ugly head of partisan politics raise itself when we were dealing with education issues," Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the panel's ranking Republican, said in an interview last week. "I think it has to do with the President's popularity."

Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Goodling had worked out an agreement that made the bill more palatable to the chairman. But other Democrats were apparently not informed of the agreement until shortly before the March 7 markup session, and committee sources said Mr. Hawkins may have been surprised by the opposition that surfaced in a closed-door caucus that delayed the meeting by 45 minutes.

Sources said Mr. Hawkins did not attempt to defend the compromise, which he said he still had "reservations" about during the public portion of the meeting.

"Do I think the chairman could have moved the legislation on to full committee? Of course, I think he could have," Mr. Goodling said last week. "He's a strong chairman."

"He speaks softly and carries a big stick, but apparently he left his stick at home that day," the Republican added.

Ironically, an aide to Mr. Hawkins said the chairman had agreed to hold the markup largely as a favor to Mr. Goodling, with whom he has enjoyed a collegial relationship.

Aides said Democrats moved for the postponement because opponents did not have enough votes to kill the Bush plan outright and they did not want it to appear that their party opposes education reform. Their plans have evolved gradually since then.

Seeking 'Action-Oriented Areas'

Mr. Hawkins said last week that an alternative bill was taking shape that would "divide the subject matter of the entire field of education into certain action-oriented areas," and would include provisions spanning all levels of schooling, from preschool to higher education.

He said it would "build on" existing programs that "need reauthorization or aren't being properly implemented," and would also include new proposals in areas such as teacher training.

"The intent of an omnibus approach is simply to challenge those who talk about the year 2000 to do it now," Mr. Hawkins told participants in a legislative conference of the Council of the Great City Schools, referring to the national education goals endorsed recently by Mr. Bush and the National Governors' Association.

Mr. Goodling said it will be difficult for Republicans to support such a bill, since they have been kept completely in the dark about it and may view it as a slap in the face for the President.

He said he advised Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos not to testify at this week's hearing, as he had been asked to do.

"I would certainly hope they would not be over there, in a partisan way, trying to write quickly some programs trying to deal with the goals the President and the governors set for the year 2000," Mr. Goodling said. "It would be a catastrophe--not only because it will not be bipartisan, but because it is being done hurriedly."

In fact, the Democrats had planned to move even faster, and had scheduled another markup for March 28 early last week before settling on a hearing instead.

Aides said the Democrats' bill would include some Bush initiatives, and that they would probably resemble those included in the Hawkins-Goodling compromise, although they might be altered further.

"Democrats are saying there isn't enough substance in the President's bill, and if we're going to pass an education bill they wanted substance in it," said a Democratic aide. "We aren't disregarding the President's bill."

The Hawkins-Goodling agreement would have dropped a magnet- schools program aimed at districts wishing to use magnets for purposes other than desegregation, which Mr. Hawkins adamantly opposes. It also provided that only schools eligible for Chapter 1 compensatory-education funds could receive awards under the proposed "Merit Schools" program, and required a minimum level of Chapter 1 funding before any money could be appropriated for some of the Bush programs.

Democrats' Bill

The new bill is also certain to include raised authorization levels for existing programs, but Democrats have not decided which ones, aides said.

Other ideas that were being considered for incorporation in the bill include:

Provisions of HR 4130 and HR 3909, the teacher-training bills sponsored by Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Goodling, respectively. (See Educa4tion Week, March 21, 1990.)

Literacy provisions, probably selected from programs included in HR 3123, a $460-million measure sponsored by Representative Thomas C. Sawyer, Democrat of Ohio. The Senate has already passed a similar bill.

Mathematics- and science-education provisions, possibly modeled on HR 4057 and 4058, introduced by Mr. Sawyer as companions to bills being considered by the Senate, which is expected to move a comprehensive science-education bill this year.

Reauthorizing language for the Head Start program and FollowThrough, a program designed to maintain the gains of Head Start graduates. Pending legislation would increase the preschool program's funding ceiling to $7.66 billion by 1994, allowing all eligible children to be served.

The Senate passed its version of the Bush education package on Feb. 7, after Democrats tied funding for some initiatives to increased funding for existing programs and added initiatives of their own. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1990.)

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