Bush Promotes Agenda as Reform Bill Stalls in Senate
By Julie A. Miller
WASHINGTON--President Bush last week traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to promote his education-reform agenda and criticized the Congress for not acting on the issue.
Meanwhile, it was Republican lawmakers who prevented the Senate from taking up education legislation before the Congress recessed for the year.
Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Majority Leader, promised that breaking the deadlock would be the first order of business when the Congress returned next month.
"With education, the White House and the Republican senators play 'good cop, bad cop,'" Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said in a statement.
"The White House talks about education reform and urges legislative action," he said. "But the Republican senators step the Senate from even taking up the legislation."
"This Administration has only one new idea on education, and it's a bad idea," Mr. Kennedy said. "Republicans want to use tax dollars to support private schools. Democrats want to improve public schools, not abandon them."
After a day of school visits-which Washington observers characterized as an effort to show the President's concern about domestic matters--Mr. Bush joined Education Secretary Lamar Alexander in promoting their America 2000 education strategy.
"States and local communities can, and will, put much of America 2000 into place without new federal laws," Mr. Bush said. "And thank heaven for that, because some of the powers that be in Congress are fighting tooth and nail against our most important reforms."
Mr. Bush also took a swipe at the education establishment, which has generally been critical of his proposal.
"The Beltway types may be afraid of reform," he said, "but I believe they are out of touch with rank-and-file teachers who welcome reform."
Many education advocates have criticized America 2000 for overemphasizing the efficacy of school choice; for focusing on the creation of a limited number of "break the mold" schools, rather than on improving existing schools; and for failing to provide additional resources for the most needy schools.
In advocating rewards for school districts that adopt choice plans that include private schools, the President argued that the concept of "public education'' should be redefined.
"Whether a school is organized by privately financed educators or town councils or religious orders or denominations,'' Mr. Bush said, "any school that serves the public and is held accountable by the public authority provides public education."
The Choice Debate
The choice issue has dominated Congressional debate on education legislation this year, and that will likely continue in 1992.
House and Senate education panels have adopted somewhat different plans to provide relatively unrestricted funding to states, school districts, or individual schools to develop and implement reform plans. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)
The House bill, HR 3320, would allow the local-option reforms to include choice plans that either include or exclude private schools, an idea that has been applauded by private-school advocates and protested by public- school organizations.
The Senate bill, S 2, would allow funding of public-school choice plans only, though Republican senators are expected to propose an amendment adding a demonstration program specifically supporting private-school choice.
But it is unclear what prompted Republicans to prevent consideration of S 2 before last week's Congressional recess.
The Minority Leader, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, objected on behalf of unspecified Republicans, although he said negotiations were "under way" between senators and the Administration.
An aide to Senator Kennedy said Democrats did not know whether the Administration was supporting the opponents of S 2 or exactly who they were.
"We expect it's the usual suspects-the right wing," the aide said, recalling that a wide-ranging education bill died in the waning hours of the 101st Congress last year when conservative Republicans would not let the Senate consider it.
This time, with a year before the 102nd Congress expires, Democrats are taking a confrontational approach. Mr. Mitchell said he would file a cloture motion to force a vote on whether to proceed with a bill.
If proponents can garner 60 votes for the motion, the bill can be considered despite objection.
Mr. Kennedy's aide said the bill's proponents are confident they can persuade 3 Republicans to join the Senate's 57 Democrats in breaking the deadlock.