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Federal File: No choice?; Out of town; Lamar and Dolly

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President Bush's April 16 speech in Allentown, Pa., in which he sought to reassert his "Education President'' credentials for the fall campaign, originally contained "strong language'' on school choice that was watered down at the behest of Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, The New Republic reported in its May 11 issue.

A White House source contacted last week confirmed the report that Mr. Alexander had asked for changes in the text, and specifically asked that the President not promise to veto pending education-reform legislation if it does not include funding for school choice.

Another Administration source said the report "isn't entirely accurate,'' but would not elaborate.

In discussions with reporters, Mr. Alexander has repeatedly declined to say whether he would recommend that the legislation be vetoed strictly because of the choice issue, saying the Administration would look at the bill as a whole before making a decision.

The Secretary's spokesman, Etta Fielek, said relevant parts of the speech had been forwarded to Mr. Alexander's office for comment, as is standard practice. But she said he would not comment on specifics of the report.

Mr. Alexander was replaced at last week's Cabinet meeting by Deputy Secretary David T. Kearns because the Secretary was out of town--way out of town.

He and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney were dispatched as the President's representatives to Australia to attend the celebration of Australian-American Friendship Week and a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the World War II battle of the Coral Sea.

Mr. Alexander spent six months in Australia in 1978 after stepping down as governor of Tennessee, and wrote a book about the experience.

At the Cabinet meeting he attended, Mr. Kearns was tapped to head an Administration delegation to riot-torn Los Angeles.

"I know where I'd rather be,'' said one Education Department official.

Mr. Alexander makes many public appearances, usually with civic leaders announcing their participation in the Secretary's America 2000 education effort.

But on April 28, he linked arms with a very different sort of partner: fellow Tennessean Dolly Parton.

The Secretary visited Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to extol the country-music star's efforts to improve the poor graduation rate in her home county in part by offering students monetary incentives.--J.M.

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