Federal File: Realignment?; Good intentions; Cavazos Day; Advice; Prescience?; Careful kudos

April 18, 1990 3 min read

Some observers think the partisan squabble that erupted in the House Education and Labor Committee last month reflects the beginning of a realignment in the Democratic camp in anticipation of the impending retirement of Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins.

Representative William D. Ford of Michigan, who is expected to succeed the California Democrat as chairman next year, has apparently played an important role in the fracas, and some Republicans say Mr. Hawkins’s lame-duck status is a factor.

The rift opened March 7, when Democrats postponed a markup of President Bush’s education bill after a 45-minute caucus.

Mr. Hawkins had worked out a compromise with Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican, only to face a mutiny by other Democrats.

Aides said Mr. Hawkins, who is clearly ambivalent about the Bush bill, did not defend the compromise, and some Republicans think he should have pressed his colleagues to follow their chairman.

“He speaks softly and carries a big stick,” Mr. Goodling said, “but he apparently left his stick at home that day.”

Democratic aides said Mr. Ford was a prominent dissenter at the caucus. And he spoke forcefully at an April 3 hearing on the Bush bill and an expansive Democratic alternative drafted after the postponement.

“They may have decided to follow the guy they’re going to have to answer to for years to come,” one gop aide said.

“Mr. Hawkins is not acting like a chairman, and Mr. Ford can’t play the compromiser because he’s not chairman yet,” said another, expressing pessimism about the fate of the legislation in question.

Aides to both Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Ford downplayed the significance of the relationship between the two men.

“Mr. Ford has always played an active role on the committee,” his aide said, pointedly noting that the Democrats’ next step is “up to Mr. Hawkins.”

Legislation was required last year when a handful of school districts missed the application deadline for impact aid, which goes to districts where revenue is limited by federal activity.

Education Department officials thought it would help if districts could send applications in directly this year, rather than routing them through state agencies and creating several opportunities for documents to be lost in transit.

But about 125 districts missed the Jan. 31 deadline this year, according to John Forkenbrock, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

Many of them missed it because they sent their forms to state agencies as in prior years, and nobody there forwarded the applications, Mr. Forkenbrock said.

A Senate aide confirmed that legislation is being drafted to solve the immediate problem, and also to establish a 60-day grace period during which late applications would be accepted with a 10 percent penalty.

April 12 was Lauro F. Cavazos Day in Corpus Christi, Tex., where the Secretary of Education spent three days last week making speeches and touring schools. The Mayor gave him the key to the city, the closest sizable city to the King Ranch, where the Secretary grew up.

Mr. Cavazos’ office gets many telephone calls from parents who think he can help them with individual problems, and they are politely redirected.

But last week, a Colorado parent got some advice directly from the Secretary.

Mr. Cavazos addressed the National Association of Elementary School Principals conference in San Antonio on April 9, and agreed to answer a call placed to a “principals’ hot line” set up at the conference by U.S.A. Today.

He reportedly told the caller that the best thing he could do for his child was to stay involved in her education.

Stung by reports that he did not play a direct role in negotiating the national education goals adopted in February by President Bush and the National Governors’ Association, Mr. Cavazos pointed out in a recent interview that he challenged educators at every level to set goals when he unveiled the 1989 “wall chart,” months before the national goals-setting process began.

“When your policies are implemented, who cares if you’re at the table?” he asked.

On another topic, Mr. Cavazos cautiously lauded the Wisconsin legislature’s approval of a plan that allows inner-city children to attend nonsectarian private schools at public expense.

President Bush and other Administration officials have carefully limited their advocacy of parental choice to public-school programs.

While federal programs should focus on public schools, whether to include private schools “is a local concern,” Mr. Cavazos said.

Mr. Bush praised the Wisconsin plan April 3--without commenting on the merits of involving private schools--in a ceremony for the 1990 Teacher of the Year.--j.m.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 1990 edition of Education Week as Federal File: Realignment?; Good intentions; Cavazos Day; Advice; Prescience?; Careful kudos