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Bill Goodling, Influential U.S. House Republican on Education, Dies at 89

By Mark Walsh — September 22, 2017 4 min read
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William F. “Bill” Goodling, a former special education teacher, principal, and school superintendent who became one of the most influential members of Congress on education policy during his 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, died on Sept. 17 at his home in York, Pa.

His family confirmed the death to news organizations but did not offer the cause.

The day after Election Day in 1994, after he had spent more than 20 years as the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, Goodling woke up to learn that Republicans had taken control of the House for the first time in decades, and he would become chairman of the panel.

A congressional colleague called Goodling early that morning, Education Week reported in a 2000 profile, knowing that the congressman was also a horse farmer who rose early.

“Mr. Chairman?” the colleague, Rep. Dale E. Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, said.

“How sweet it is,” Goodling replied.

Under Goodling’s leadership, Congress enacted sweeping reauthorizations of major federal education laws such as the Higher Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He was one of a handful of Republican moderates, including Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who worked with Democrats on education policy and were sometimes viewed with suspicion by more right-wing members of the party who rose to power in 1994. (Jeffords, who died in 2014, eventually became an independent.)

Goodling also fought for more special education funding and led successful efforts to block a new national testing program proposed by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

“A new federal test would do nothing to help our children,” Mr. Goodling said at the time. “If more testing were the answer to the problems in our schools, testing would have solved them a long time ago.”

But Goodling was dismayed during his tenure as chairman that lawmakers failed to pass an reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act despite years of effort.

“My greatest disappointment right now is that we passed a lot of good legislation that is sitting over there on the other side,” Goodling said, referring to the Senate, which had failed to act on those measures.

Goodling retired from Congress in early 2001, and lawmakers would pass and President George W. Bush would sign the No Child Left Behind Act in early 2002, incorporating many measures championed by Goodling.

Many Educator Jobs

Goodling, who insisted on being called Bill, was born in 1927 in Loganville, Pa., the youngest of six children, and worked in his family’s apple orchard. His father, George A. Goodling, was elected to Congress in 1960, served two terms before losing office, then was elected again in 1966 and served four more terms.

Bill Goodling graduated from William Penn Senior High School in York in 1945, and he joined the U.S. Army for three years.

Later, he graduated from the University of Maryland and received his master’s degree in education from Western Maryland College. In the 1950s, he worked as a special education, English, and social studies teacher, a counselor, and a coach at Kennard-Dale High School in Fawn Grove, Pa., before becoming the principal of West York Area Senior High School. He also studied toward a Ph.D. in educational administration.

In 1967, Goodling became the superintendent of the Spring Grove Area School District, also in York County. Goodling also served as a school board member and board president in the Dallastown (Pa.) Area School District in the mid-1960s.

Goodling ran for the House in 1974, succeeding his father in the seat covering York and the surrounding region. Jeffords was elected to the House that same year, and the pair of moderate Republicans joined the education committee, where they gained high-ranking seats because the panel was not especially popular with their party. (Jeffords was elected to the Senate in 1988.)

When Democrats controlled the House, and the education committee, Goodling was known for working with Democratic colleagues such as Rep. George Miller of California, even if they sometimes squabbled during committee meetings.

When conservative Republicans were on the rise in the early 1990s, Goodling cast his lot with them on fiscal policies. An endorsement from Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who would become the Republican Speaker of the House after the 1994 election, helped Goodling survive a tough re-election fight that year. (Goodling had become wrapped up in 1992 in a scandal involving House members overdrafting their accounts at the House bank.)

Under Gingrich’s speakership, some conservatives were suspicious of moderates such as Goodling. The new speaker was said to pack some conservative freshman members on the education panel to temper the new chairman.

Goodling helped fend off cuts to the federal school lunch program, and in 1998, he won passage of a child-nutrition bill that bears his name. He was also a champion of federal early-childhood-education programs, including Head Start and Even Start.

Goodling also fought back conservative proposals to enact private school vouchers and to eliminate the federal Department of Education. He beat back a conservative primary challenge in 1998 to win election to what would be his last term. Goodling chose not to run for reelection in 2000 in part because House Republicans had enacted limits on the duration of committee chairmanships to six years.

Goodling suffered a brain aneurysm in 2010, the York Daily Record reported. He worked hard in physical therapy to recover, the paper said.

Goodling’s wife of 50 years, Hilda, died in 2008. Survivors include his daughter, Jennifer Goodling, and a son, Todd Goodling, as well as a brother and sister.

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