Federal File: Bitter choice; Fiscal rumors

January 15, 1992 2 min read

Frustrated that Bush Administration officials appear willing to “bargain away” their strong rhetorical support for private-school choice, a coalition of conservative organizations, including two representing Christian schools, greeted the new White House chief of staff, Samuel K. Skinner, by demanding that the Administration renege on a deal cut by his predecessor on the issue.

In a Dec. 23 letter, which was mailed to reporters last week, the coalition asks that President Bush veto any education legislation that does not devote at least one-third of new spending to choice projects.

In addition, the letter said, a “meaningful” choice program should allow public funding of private education and “must not include additional federal regulation of participating schools at the federal, state, or local level.”

The groups asked Mr. Skinner to “correct a policy error” made by his predecessor, John Sununu, who agreed to support a much less ambitions provision in a pending House bill.

That bill would provide funds to states and school districts to pursue a variety of educational innovations, which could include choice programs in which private schools participate.

That language was proposed by Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, because he feared a program guaranteeing funds to private-school programs might otherwise be approved by the House. In return, Mr. Sununu pledged that the Administration would not support such attempts.

The coalition also said it is dissatisfied with a small demonstration program for private-school choice that Republicans plan to offer as an amendment to a counterpart Senate bill, arguing that it “does not demonstrate the President’s commitment to choice .

Most observers are predicting that the fiscal 1993 budget President Bush is to unveil Feb. 3 will include relatively generous marks for education programs.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander hinted as much in a recent meeting with reporters, predicting that education would “have a high priority among the departments,” and that Head Start would be singled out for a large increase.

“We’ll see if he can fully fund it, even in a bad budget,” Mr. Alexander said.

Critics of the Administration note that President Reagan also proposed comparatively high education budgets in the election years of 2984 and 1988-and that Mr. Bush promised during the latter campaign to fully fund Head Start.--J.M.

A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 1992 edition of Education Week as Federal File: Bitter choice; Fiscal rumors