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Federal File: Serving notice; Friendly fire?

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In a speech last week at a Pennsylvania high school, President Bush repeated charges that Democratic lawmakers are ignoring his America 2000 education strategy in favor of "business as usual'' legislation. He said he wants to "serve notice'' on "the education lobby and their friends back on Capitol Hill'' that they "cannot stop change.''

The Congress has decisively rejected the President's proposed voucher program that would include private schools, and lawmakers have so watered down Mr. Bush's plan for federal funding of 535 innovative "New American Schools'' as to have effectively killed it.

The Senate reform bill, however, contains regulatory-flexibility provisions that resemble those Mr. Bush sought, and the House bill is expected to emerge from committee with a similar section.

The final major point of Mr. Bush's plan, a national system of standards and assessments, was not included in his original legislation.

The Senate bill incorporates Administration-backed testing recommendations made by a bipartisan council in January. House Democrats are leery of a national testing system, and their bill is likely to include amendments Mr. Bush will oppose.

But lawmakers say they have not yet decided whether to "slow down'' the testing program, as the President asserted in his speech.

In a column in the Houston Post last week, Phyllis Schlafly, the prominent champion of traditional values in education, characterized America 2000 as a plan to nationalize schools and usurp parental authority.

Ms. Schlafly said America 2000 does not address what she views as education's biggest problems: "the failure to teach 1st-grade children to read'' and "the substitution of psychological pap for the basics.''

Whereas liberals often flay Mr. Bush for failing to spend more on education, Ms. Schlafly warned that "big money and policy changes are implicit'' in Mr. Bush's promise to be the "Education President.''

She said America 2000 is "the catchword to 'restructure' our 110,000 elementary and secondary schools into a national system,'' through national goals and testing, model schools, and "national awards and rewards for those who cooperate.''

Ms. Schlafly asserted that Mr. Bush pays only "lip service'' to local control and parental choice. America 2000, she added, will transform all private schools into public schools by applying national standards to them and by "anoint[ing] with tax dollars only those schools that are 'held accountable by a public authority.' ''--J.M.

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