House Education Panels Slated for Major Reshuffling

By Julie A. Miller — November 21, 1990 5 min read

Washington--Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who will take over as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee in the upcoming 102nd Congress, has announced that he will also head the panel’s Postsecondary Education Subcommittee.

That announcement heralds a major reshuffling of the committee, which will have at least four new members.

Observers also note that Mr. Ford will bring a markedly different leadership style to the panel from that of his predecessor, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, although not a significantly different political ideology.

At least half of the panel’s eight subcommittees will have new chairmen--including the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education--and one will also have a new ranking Republican.

Representative Dale E. Kildee, also a Michigan Democrat, has indicated that he wants to head the precollegiate-education panel, which had been led by the chairman of the full committee for almost 20 years.

Some observers thought Mr. Ford might follow his predecessors--Mr. Hawkins, who retired this year, and the late Carl D. Perkins of Kentucky--and take over that subcommittee.

But most observers say his decision is not surprising in light of his experience and interest in higher education, and the fact that the Higher Education Act is to be reauthorized in the 102nd Congress. Mr. Ford led the higher-education panel during the past two renewals of the h.e.a., which were enacted in 1980 and 1986.

Because House rules forbid a full-committee chairman to head a subcommittee of a different committee, Mr. Ford was forced to relinquish the chairmanship of the higher-education panel in 1981, when he became chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee. But when Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, left the House and the subcommittee chairmanship in 1984, Mr. Ford won a two-year waiver from the rules.

Representative Pat Williams, the Montana Democrat who has headed the postsecondary panel since 1986, will now be forced to choose another assignment.

A spokesman said Mr. Williams had not yet made up his mind, but several observers predicted that he would take the top post on the Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations, which will be vacated by Representative William L. Clay when he succeeds Mr. Ford as chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee.

The chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, which oversees Head Start and child-care issues, will also be open because of Mr. Kildee’s move to the education panel.

But observers and committee aides said it was not yet clear what other subcommittee swaps might be likely.

“The word is that a number of members are thinking about making a move,” one Democratic aide said, “but it’s too early to call.”

And while the jockeying has begun, none of the decisions becomes final until the party caucuses meet early next month.

The caucuses will also assign new members to committees, filling slots on Education and Labor vacated by Mr. Hawkins and three Republicans: Tom Tauke of Iowa and Tommy F. Robinson of Arkansas, both of whom unsuccessfully sought other offices, and Peter Smith of Vermont, who was defeated for re-election.

Mr. Tauke’s departure also leaves a leadership post open; he was the ranking Republican on the Human Resources subcommittee. But no wholesale reshuffling is expected among the committee’s Republicans.

Although the changes on Education and Labor are substantial, education advocates said that, because both the departing and incoming leaders are known as supporters of education programs, education interests are not likely to fare much better or worse as a result.

“The differences are in style and tone, rather than in terms of direction and substance,” said Michael Casserly, associate director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “It remains a progressive, forward-looking committee, and there isn’t anything about the new regime which should change that.”

Many observers think Mr. Ford will be more bluntly partisan than Mr. Hawkins, and less willing to compromise with the Bush Administration.

During negotiations last month on a failed omnibus education bill, which included some Bush proposals, one Republican committee aide said, “Mr. Ford made it clear that this was the best the Administration was going to do, that he would not give nearly as much ground.”

And Mr. Ford was a key player when committee Democrats refused to accept a version of the President’s bill that Mr. Hawkins had worked out with Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican.

“I wouldn’t say he’s been unfair to the minority, but sometimes he appears to be primarily interested in bashing the Administration,” said a Republican aide on the Post Office panel.

However, an aide to Mr. Goodling said the two men have a friendly relationship.

Several observers said Mr. Ford will be more visible within the Congress than Mr. Hawkins was.

“Ford will be more of an ‘in player’ with the leadership and among the other committee chairs,” said Michael Edwards, manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association. “He will be a strong advocate not just for educael10ltion, but for the committee.”

“He will be a player in leadership decisions,” a Democratic committee aide predicted. “He’s not the sort of person about whom you can say, ‘We’ll talk to him later, after we’ve decided what to do.”’

Committee aides and observers predicted that Mr. Ford would be much more “territorial” than Mr. Hawkins, guarding more jealously the committee’s jurisdiction over certain issues.

One traditional area of conflict has been science education, over which the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology claims some jurisdiction. The two panels have often fought over whether the Education Department or the National Science Foundation--which is overseen by the science panel--would run particular programs.

A mathematics-and-science-education bill enacted last month essentially divides responsibility for new programs, but most of its provisions originated in the Senate. A House bill that contained some scholarship programs also included in the final bill went through the science committee and the House without input from Education and Labor.

“Mr. Ford was furious about that,” a Democratic aide said. “He couldn’t believe Mr. Hawkins had allowed that to happen.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 21, 1990 edition of Education Week as House Education Panels Slated for Major Reshuffling