School-Choice Plan Could Endanger Entire Bush Proposal, Senators Warn
Washington--Members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee warned Secre tary of Education Lamar Alexander last week that the Bush Adminis0 tration's controversial educational-0 choice proposal could threaten the viability of his entire agenda.3
The lawmakers promised to work with Mr. Alexander on a compre0 hensive education bill. But they also sharply criticized the Administra tion's choice plan, particularly its in0 clusion of private and religious schools.$$
The remarks offered a preview of what will be the most contentious is0 sue in the debate over the Adminis0 tration's America 2000 education strategy.0
Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, was the most out0 spoken, saying the Administration's position could "jeopardize" the rest of the Administration's legislation.$ He told Mr. Alexander that choice would "destroy" and "wreak havoc upon" the nation's public schools.
"Mr. Secretary, you're going to ruin the lives of millions of kids," he said.$!
Several lawmakers argued that public schools with limited resources would be abandoned and left with fewer students and dollars under a proposal that would let parents take public money to private schools.$'
Democrats joining in the attack in0 cluded Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the panel's chair0 man; Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, chairman of its education subcommit0 tee; and Paul Simon of Illinois.3
Even one Republican, Nancy LanH0 don Kassebaum of Kansas, the ranking minority member on the subcommittee, expressed concern that public schools could be "dimin0 ished" by the Bush plan.$ 3
In reply, Secretary Alexander 3said that it is the American way to "follow quality," and if parentsmove their children from bad Lschools to good ones, "responsible" school boards will identify the problems in the bad schools and try to fix them.
Mr. Alexander did admit, after prodding from Senator MetzenHbaum, that, under the kind of choice program advocated by the Admini0 stration, private and religious schools could still deny students the opportunity to enroll.$ .
"I suppose it's possible that pri vate schools might be selective, but we don't have to assume that," Mr. Alexander said.
The exchange between Mr. MetH zenbaum and the Secretary illusL trated exactly what Democrats on the committee said they did not want to happen: for choice to overH shadow the consideration of other aspects of the legislation.0
The President's proposals also include developing an innovative school in each Congressional dis trict, expanding the National As sessment of Educational Progress, establishing a commission to study the length of the school day and year, and creating state academies for teachers and administrators.0
As part of the legislative maneu vering, Mr. Kennedy has introduced a series of education bills of his own. (See Education Week, May 29, 1991.)
One of them, S 2, has already been cleared by the committee and is awaiting Senate action. It includes literacy initiatives and additional authorizations for school-based management and mathematics and science programs.$
Mr. Kennedy held off on pushing for a Senate vote on his bills pend ing the introduction of the Presi dent's bill. Now, an aide to Mr. Kennedy said, the senator is con sidering how to bring S 2--and oth er proposals with bipartisan sup port, such as the academies and a teacher-training measure spon sored by himself and Mr. Pell--to a vote on the floor.$
One issue that has not been re solved is Mr. Kennedy's desire to fulH ly fund the Head Start program.0
The aide to Mr. Kennedy said Sec retary Alexander sympathized with the Massachusetts Democrat on the issue. But, the aide said, "It's not [Mr. Alexander's] issue. That's the $ problem."
"This involves [the Department of Health and Human Services, the Of fice of Management and Budget], and a whole other cast of charac ters," he noted.0