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Bush Urges Catholic Educators To Back Reform Package

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WASHINGTON--President Bush met last week with 19 Roman Catholic education leaders, urging them to encourage support for his education-reform package.

The President and the Catholic officials apparently were much more in tune on their support for private-school choice than they have been since Mr. Bush took office.

"It was an extremely positive meeting," said Sister Catherine T. McNamee, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, the principal professional organization for Catholic educators.

"We did not have to force our agenda, if you will," she added. "We had quite a discussion about parental choice and parents' right to choose."

Sister McNamee said President Bush and other top Administration officials urged the Catholic leaders to lobby members of the Congress to support parental-choice provisions of the President's America 2000 education plan.

Catholic leaders have lobbied the President since 1989 to include religious and other private schools in the debate over school choice. The leaders have generally been satisfied with the way President Bush's views have evolved over that time, in that he now strongly advocates the inclusion of private schools in choice plans.

"We have seen quite a change in the public attitudes" on choice in part because of the President's support, Sister McNamee said.

Also present at the Nov. 5 session at the White House were Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, and Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush's top domestic-policy adviser.

The meeting came about after the President was invited to address the National Congress on Catholic Schools, a major conference on the future of Catholic education that began here last week. Mr. Bush could not attend the session, but he agreed to meet with a delegation of Catholic school administrators and corporate supporters.

"This fits into the President's commitment on choice," said Leigh Ann Metzger, an aide to Mr. Bush in the White House office of public liaison. "The Catholic community is one of our strongest allies there."

Among the participants at the meeting were several other top officials Of N.C.E.A.; Peter M. Flanigan, a managing director of Dillon, Read & Company in New York City and a major donor to Catholic schools there; William Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America; Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff, superintendent of education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis; and Sister Mary Frances Taymans, assistant superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

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