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Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Goodling Says Committee Will Tackle ESEA

Goodling Says Committee Will Tackle ESEA

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Heading into his last term in Congress, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee is moving to take a stronger-than-expected role in updating the law that governs most federal elementary and secondary school programs.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., has decided that the full committee in the 106th Congress--which convenes in January--will "mark up" the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill. The bill will authorize federal school aid programs, the bulk of which are aimed at disadvantaged children, for five years.

In previous sessions, the K-12 subcommittee has done the markup. That term is Capitol Hill lingo for the nitty-gritty of considering amendments before advancing a bill in its final form for voting.

Some observers say the move represents a way for the chairman--who plans to retire after the 106th session ends--to assert control of the major bill, and particularly to steer it clear of more partisan GOP members hoping to push vouchers, school choice, and other conservative provisions.

"This bill would be his mark on Congress," said John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research group. "This is what he will want to be remembered for.

"And that mark is best made by having the bill at full committee," said Mr. Jennings, who spent years as a Democratic aide to the House education committee.

In fact, Mr. Goodling's move might cool the interest of some members in seeking the K-12 panel chair being vacated by Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., who is retiring.

Mr. Goodling, a former public school teacher, administrator, and school board president, was first elected to Congress in 1974. He turned 71 last week.

Dividing Tasks

Mr. Goodling outlined the procedural change in a letter to Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, the committee's ranking Democrat, and a memo to Republican members. The letter, copied to all committee members, and the memo were dated Nov. 19.

In the letter, Mr. Goodling wrote that he expected to divide hearings on the law between the K-12 panel and the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Lifelong Learning, which would address teacher-training issues, among others.

"Consistent with this approach I will ask the appropriate subcommittee chairs to hold hearings on their jurisdictional issues and make recommendations to the full Committee," Mr. Goodling wrote in the letter provided by the committee.

"This doesn't mean the subcommittee chairs won't have very meaningful input," said Jay Diskey, the spokesman for the Republicans on the full committee. "We anticipate they will be very involved."

Mr. Diskey said improving teacher quality will be a priority for Mr. Goodling, who spent nearly 30 years as an educator.

For one, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the California Republican who chairs the higher education subcommittee, is happy with his task of taking a closer look at the teacher-training portions of the law, said his press secretary, David Foy.

Mr. Diskey said Mr. Goodling simply wanted to find a way to guide the reauthorization process through a House with a slim Republican majority. Democratic gains last month left the House with 223 Republicans, 211 Democrats, and one Independent, who usually votes with the Democrats. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has announced he will resign from the House, which could create an open seat before any House votes on the legislation.

Staff aides for Mr. Clay noted that the move was the chairman's prerogative but declined further comment.

In the Senate, the full Labor and Human Resources Committee already is set to take up the ESEA reauthorization. When he became that panel's chairman in 1997, Sen. James M. Jeffords, a moderate Republican from Vermont, eliminated the Education, Arts and Humanities Subcommittee, which he had also led.

Joe Karpinski, the communications director for the Senate panel, said the House changes won't affect the Senate proceedings. "They will provide a bill. We will provide a bill. We will really only come together in the conference committee," Mr. Karpinski said.

Challenges Ahead

The Department of Education was neither surprised nor concerned by Mr. Goodling's letter.

"We fully expect and look forward to working with Chairman Goodling throughout the ESEA reauthorization process," said Julie Green, the spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. Ms. Green added that department officials plan to meet with Mr. Goodling in the next few weeks.

Mr. Jennings of the Center on Education Policy said the chairman will "have his hands full" with the reauthorization. He predicted a strong GOP bloc "in favor of vouchers, school choice, and doing all sorts of things that could radically change the program."

And, Mr. Jennings added, Democrats emboldened by their recent election gains will be resolute in supporting President Clinton on policies such as class-size reduction and increased school construction funding, and in working against vouchers.

Among education groups that track activity in Washington, the changes were expected to raise few eyebrows as long as the hefty legislation moves smoothly.

Dale Lestina, the chief lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union with 2.4 million members, said issues such as class-size reduction and teacher training deserve legislative focus. "If there's any bearing, we hope this would come down on the side of facilitating that," Mr. Lestina said.

Vol. 18, Issue 15, Pages 23-24

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