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Federal File: Choice paradigm; Bowl warning

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White House officials have been talking for months about launching a program centered on self-help approaches to domestic policy--such as school choice--and some such ideas may appear in President Bush's State of the Union Message and fiscal 1992 budget proposal.

This package of ideas, which also includes urban-enterprise zones and tenant ownership of public housing, has been dubbed the "new paradigm" by James P. Pinkerton, the deputy domestic-policy adviser generally credited with the concept.

Some who are working to turn it into policy proposals prefer "empowerment."

Mr. Bush endorsed the concept in a recent speech, saying: "The status quo of the centralized bureaucracy is not working for the people, the ones who need affordable housing, the ones who want to choose the best schools for their kids, or child care for younger children, the ones who want to pull themselves out of dependency and into a life of self-sufficiency in a safe, clean, and drug-free community."

Administration officials are reportedly at odds over how realistic and politically salable this approach is.

But Administration sources predict that Mr. Bush will endorse educational "empowerment" proposals that focus on increased choice for poor families, drawing heavily on the example of Polly Williams, the Wisconsin state legislator who won support for a voucher system allowing some poor Milwaukee families to send their children to private schools at public expense.

Efforts by organizers of the Fiesta Bowl to use scholarships to assuage criticism of the location of their college-football match have drawn a negative response from the Education Department.

A number of events set for Arizona cities were pulled out after voters last month rejected a state holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. But the bowl game is still to be held in Tempe on New Year's Day.

So bowl officials decided to create a scholarship program named after Dr. King. Each school fielding a team in the game is to get $100,000 to distribute to minority students.

In a letter to bowl officials, however, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Michael L. Williams warned about "certain civil-rights obligations of the participating universities."

Civil-rights law, he said, prohibits institutions receiving federal funds from giving race-exclusive scholarships.

The bowl can do so, he said, but the schools the students attend cannot aid in the awards.

Mr. Williams suggested that "race neutral" criteria such as economic disadvantage be substituted.--j.m.

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