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Congress in Transition

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Majority in Poll Oppose G.O.P. Education Agenda


A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that a majority of Americans are pleased with the general direction of the Republican-led Congress--but disagree with G.O.P. proposals relating to education and children.

About 41 percent of those polled--up from 31 percent in January and 27 percent last October--said they approve of the actions of Congress in general.

But 79 percent say that the Education Department should not be eliminated--an idea backed by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., some other G.O.P. lawmakers, and prominent members of the party.

Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., and Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, have proposed merging the agency with the Labor Department. (See related story.)

In addition, 58 percent of respondents said they disagree with G.O.P. plans to replace the school-lunch program with a block grant, while 34 percent agree; 53 percent oppose eliminating federal aid for public broadcasting, while 34 percent agree; and 52 percent oppose eliminating the President's national-service program, while 36 percent like the idea.

(See education committee drafted legislation that would create a school-nutrition block grant, they forgot one thing: schools run by the Defense Department have no states to get funding from under such a scenario.

The measure had no provision for how the Defense Department would provide lunches to military dependents in schools overseas or on military bases in the United States. Some military families have a low enough income that their children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Lawmakers corrected the oversight when the measure was combined with others into a broad welfare-reform bill last week. It allows any children who would qualify for the nutrition programs in a civilian school to be able to do so in a Pentagon-run school. The measure is slated to move to the House floor this week

Americans should be wary of school programs that portray homosexuality as a "reasonable alternative," and of counseling that may lead students to pursue a gay lifestyle, according to Speaker Gingrich.

"I don't think we want people out with Heather Has Two Mommies in 1st grade explaining that homosexuality is a reasonable alternative in lifestyle," he was quoted as saying in news reports, referring to the controversial children's book about a girl whose mother is a lesbian.

Mr. Gingrich was also quoted as saying: "You have had, clearly, examples of what is in effect recruitment in so-called counseling programs. So I'm very cautious about the idea that you want to have active homosexuals in junior high school and high school explaining to young people that they have all these various, wonderful options."

The Speaker's remarks came one day after he met with his half-sister, a lesbian who was visiting Capitol Hill to lobby in support of gay rights.

Sandra Feldman, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, denounced the comments.

"The U.F.T. is fully and strongly supportive of the rights of our gay and lesbian members, who are among our finest teachers," Ms. Feldman said.

Schools in the nation's large urban districts would lose at least $228 million under the rescissions bill approved by the House last week, a survey of 31 districts by the Council of the Great City Schools estimates.

The bill would cut $17.1 billion in federal spending that had been appropriated in the current fiscal year, including about $1.7 billion from Education Department programs.(See related story

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