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Federal File: Mixed review

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Rep. Bill Goodling, the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, gave a mixed review to the Republican-led Congress' approach in a recent interview recapping action on education issues in 1995.

Mr. Goodling praised the House GOP and the panel he chairs for emphasizing efforts to improve the quality of federal education programs and for beginning a drive to move more decisionmaking to the local level. He was also pleased with the panel's ongoing analysis of federal programs affecting schools.

But Mr. Goodling, a former public school teacher and administrator, was less sanguine about other aspects of the GOP education agenda.

While commending a package of proposed reforms for the District of Columbia schools, he questioned a controversial plan to use public dollars to help low-income families in the capital city send children to private schools, which has been backed by more conservative Republicans, especially Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

"I've never been a choice advocate beyond public school choice," Mr. Goodling said. "One of the problems we've had on this side of the aisle is we talk about the responsibility of state and local governments and then we get in the role of dictating from the federal level. That's not very consistent."

The chairman also expressed skepticism over a proposed "religious liberties" amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which proponents said would protect prayer in public schools. The religious community, he said, is divided over the issue.

And he split with conservatives over so-called parental-rights legislation, which would bar government and school officials from "interfering" with the "upbringing" of a child.

"I'm from the school where in loco parentis meant [that] when I was the superintendent, I was the parent in the school," he said.

The Clinton administration's Goals 2000 program has also been a GOP target, but Mr. Goodling supports its aim of spurring voluntary standards. He took credit for moving the debate "away from some of the criticism of Goals 2000, that it could be a national school board and so forth."

While he acknowledged that he sometimes found it "very frustrating" to be pressed by his party's dominant right wing, Mr. Goodling said it was "even more frustrating" battling the administration's rhetoric on proposed changes to student-loan programs.

--Mark Pitsch

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