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Federal File: Secretarial support

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Two former Secretaries of Education, Lamar Alexander and William J. Bennett, last week joined Congressional Republicans' end-of-session effort to gum up the legislative works by campaigning against a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

They denounced the bill, HR 6, at a news conference and sent a letter to senators urging them to defeat it.

As co-directors of the conservative organization Empower America, they also produced a 60-second radio commercial that included this message: "HR 6 will put federal bureaucrats in control of how local schools teach."

"This is exhibit A of the difference between what the Republicans see as education and this Administration," Mr. Alexander said at the news conference. "This Administration takes all the good ideas and all the good rules and requires them."

Both former Secretaries said they support the setting of high standards, which HR 6 requires of states and school districts, but object to a mandate from the federal government.

They called for a one-year extension of current law so that the bill could be rewritten.

While denying that their effort was merely a partisan ploy, the former Secretaries admitted to not paying much attention to the bill--which was introduced more than a year ago--until late last month.

Mr. Bennett suggested that Congress and the Administration sought to keep their plans secret until now.

He and Mr. Alexander bashed Democrats for including provisions on gender equity, school-finance equalization, and rules requiring union labor for federal contracts. But they also criticized Republicans for pushing language on school prayer and sex education.

Mr. Alexander, who has all but formally announced his candidacy for the 1996 G.O.P. Presidential nomination, suggested that the responsibility for financing education programs be turned over to the states in exchange for full federal funding of Medicaid. He also touted the voucher program he proposed when he served in the Bush Administration.

Mr. Bennett, who recently announced that he will not run for President, weighed in on the performance of Secretary Richard W. Riley: "I think he's been disappointing. ... He's either been silenced or he's silenced himself."

--Mark Pitsch

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