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Congress in Transition: Advocates Left Wondering at Goodling's 'Metamorphosis'

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For years, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., has been known as one of the leading Republican champions of federal programs that finance breakfasts and lunches for poor students.

In 1982, when the Reagan Administration sought to classify ketchup as a vegetable in school meals, he fought attempts to replace the programs with a block grant or cut their subsidy levels.

As the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, he co-sponsored legislation last year to reauthorize the programs that he said were "a vital part of the educational process."

"You simply can't teach a hungry youngster," the former educator said last year.

And a November 1993 news release noted that "Goodling's work in the school-lunch/child-nutrition area has brought him numerous awards."

Observers wonder how Mr. Goodling can square those sentiments with his current role--as the chairman of the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities--in overseeing House Republicans' efforts to subsume child-nutrition programs into block grants.

"There were times when he was as vociferous, if not more vociferous, than the Democrats," said Arnold F. Fege, the executive director of the National PTA "I've never seen such a political metamorphosis." Mr. Fege and others suggest the situation illustrates the delicacy of Mr. Goodling's position as a moderate in a conservative-dominated G.O.P. majority.

Mr. Goodling could not be reached for comment. But an aide told about 800 food-service administrators gathered for a conference here last week that the chairman softened the original block-grant proposal forwarded by the House leadership.

"Our goal was to try to take the [House G.O.P."Contract With America"] and make it less harmful to children," said Lynn Selmser, noting that the leadership had favored authorizing smaller yearly funding increases than the 4.5 percent voted by the panel.

"If you don't think it was hard [for Mr. Goodling], you're wrong," Ms. Selmser said.

Twenty-four education groups are urging Congress not to eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Such cuts "would result in the elimination of major educational programs while having negligible impact on the federal deficit," the groups said in a letter to members of Congress last month.

The letter noted that public television is used in 75 percent of the nation's schools; provides about 1,600 hours of free, noncommercial programming each year, and is used by 88,000 adults annually to study for high-school-equivalency tests..

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a bill that would pare the C.P.B.'s funding by 15 percent in fiscal 1996 and 30 percent in 1997.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has called for eliminating its federal aid.

Meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore last week spoke to American University students about public broadcasting .

The Christian Coalition will make the passage of a "religious liberty" statute by Congress one of its top four priorities once the House finishes consideration of the items in the Contract With America.

Such a law should guarantee the right to pray in public schools, the coalition's executive director, Ralph Reed, said in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

"Congress should codify in federal law what the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines School District in 1969, that no child sheds his right to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate," he wrote.

Add the Cato Institute to the list of think tanks, members of Congress, and former Secretaries of Education who favor shutting down the Education Department.

The recommendation is included in the libertarian think tank's 358-page Cato Handbook for Congress.

In the short term, Cato officials urge repealing the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the Title I compensatory-education program and turning student loans over to the private sector.

Michelle Easton, a former deputy undersecretary of education in the Bush Administration, wrote the chapter on education.

Copies of the handbook are $25 each from the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

--Mark Pitsch

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