As Clinton Team Takes Office, Education Lineup Is Unclear
WASHINGTON--As President Clinton's Administration took office last week, there was much speculation--but little firm information--among education observers here about how it will formulate education policy.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley took possession of his new office on the morning of Jan. 21. He was formally confirmed by the Senate later that day, along with two other top domestic Cabinet members, Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala.
Earlier in the week, the Clinton transition team announced that former Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin of Vermont would be nominated as deputy secretary of education.
Meanwhile, the announcement by the White House late last week that Hillary Rodham Clinton would have a formal advisory role on health care and other domestic issues added credence to speculation that the First Lady might emerge as an influential voice on education.
Observers here appear split on the question of whether education policymaking will be centered in the White House or in Secretary Riley's department.
Some reasoned that President Clinton's decision to give the two top Education Department posts to fellow former Governors who are personal friends indicates that he plans to take an active part in education policy himself.
"I would expect the White House to play an important role in setting policy,'' said Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association.
"Hillary's staff may be writing legislation,'' he added, noting Mrs. Clinton's involvement in school-reform issues while her husband was Governor of Arkansas.
But others argued that the makeup of the White House domestic-policy staff suggests that Mr. Riley will be firmly in charge.
"There's nobody there who is particularly strong in education,'' said a Democratic Senate aide. "I think Riley's going to put a strong team in and can run without White House involvement.''
Carol Rasco, a longtime Clinton aide who was named the assistant to the President for domestic policy, is known primarily for her work in such areas as child care and welfare reform.
The members of her team--Bruce Reed, the former policy director at the Democratic Leadership Council; William Galston, a University of Maryland professor who was affiliated with the ä.ì.ã.'s think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute; and Shirley Sagawa, a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.--bring experience on such matters as family policy and youth service, but none is closely identified with K-12 education.
Ira C. Magaziner, an expert on international business who is Mr. Clinton's senior adviser for policy development, has been active on school-to-work issues. But Mr. Magaziner will not be part of Ms. Rasco's team, and he is expected to focus on health care.
Surprise and 'Short Lists'
Transition sources said last week that Secretary Riley had "short lists'' of candidates for Education Department posts below the deputy secretaryship and was expected to make additional personnel decisions soon. Several Clinton advisers who worked on education policy during the campaign and the transition, as well as Terry Peterson, a longtime aide to Mr. Riley, were working in the Secretary's office last week, but it was unclear what their permanent status would be.
"We've only been here five hours,'' Stephen Gaskill, who said he was designated a temporary spokesman for the department, said last Thursday. "Nobody really knows anything at this point.''
Ms. Kunin's selection for the department's number-two slot was a surprise to many education lobbyists. She was a leader of Mr. Clinton's transition team and had been mentioned for a key post--but at the Environmental Protection Agency or the White House.
Many observers said Ms. Kunin's appointment would give even more weight to the state-level perspective that both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Riley bring to Washington.
Indeed, some lobbyists who represent primarily local interests expressed concern about a potential bias in the Administration toward greater state control of education programs.
Arnold Fege, the director of government relations for the National ðôá, said his organization had joined with the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Council of the Great City Schools to urge the transition team to appoint a deputy secretary "from the local level'' who would also represent "urban areas and the interests of minority groups.''
"I'm not criticizing Madeleine's capabilities, but I don't think it's the correct appointment,'' Mr. Fege said. "It's clear that Clinton simply had to find a job for her.''
Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, was quick to issue a congratulatory statement on the appointment--something that most major school groups here did not do.
Michael Edwards, the director of federal relations for the National Education Association, said he was "delighted'' with the appointment, however. He echoed a point made by Mr. Ambach that the President's decision to appoint two leading members of his transition team to the top two jobs in the Education Department "shows how important the department is on his agenda.''
'An Important Ally'
Richard P. Mills, the state commissioner of education in Vermont, last week said Ms. Kunin was "an important ally'' during her tenure as Governor. She served from 1985 to 1991.
"She put herself on the line to win school-finance reform,'' he said, "and there was a very large increase in education aid.''
Ms. Kunin's primary education initiative was a proposal to increase financial equity among the state's school districts.
Her original plan would have taken local tax funds from high-wealth districts and transferred the money to poorer ones. The legislature instead provided additional state aid to districts that could not meet minimum state standards without raising property taxes above the state average.
While Ms. Kunin backed Vermont's experiment with an assessment system that uses student portfolios, that program was initiated by Mr. Mills and the state school board.
Allyson M. Tucker, the manager of the Center for Educational Policy at the Heritage Foundation, said she was concerned by Ms. Kunin's emphasis on finance equity, particularly because Congress is expected to consider taking a role in persuading states to equalize district resources.
"If it's not done properly, it takes control away from local governments and increases bureaucracies,'' Ms. Tucker said.
The Education Department, meanwhile, was operating on something of an ad hoc basis last week.
Transition aides said Secretary Riley had chosen career employees to serve temporarily in top positions, but Mr. Gaskill, the temporary spokesman, said the list would not be released until this week.
Department employees, however, said that Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of compensatory-education programs, would serve as acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, and that Emerson J. Elliott, the commissioner of education statistics, would be acting assistant secretary for educational research and improvement. Both are career government officials.
Diane S. Ravitch, the former O.E.R.I. chief, was the only top Bush official on hand the day after the Inauguration. She had been designated to oversee any necessary business until Mr. Riley's confirmation.
Department employees said that some lower-level Bush Administration appointees reported to work on Jan. 21 and others did not. One transition aide said some of President Bush's appointees would be asked to stay temporarily. But Mr. Gaskill said they would all be told that their last day was Jan. 22.
Even some career employees became anxious last month, according to department staff members, when a "hit list,'' thought to have been compiled by the department's union, began circulating that listed officials recommended for targeting by the new Administration.
According to employees who have seen it, the list included what its compilers termed "moles''--former çŸïŸðŸ political appointees who have converted to career status--and "lizards,'' civil servants who were deemed to have been too cooperative with the Republican administrations.
Agency employees said the list contained numerous errors.
Paul Geib, the president of the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union had neither drafted nor circulated a "hit list.''
He did say the union is making a list of political appointees and had "asked our representatives who the bad managers are.''