Rep. Bill Goodling: Caught Between Party and the ‘Real World’

By Julie A. Miller — July 31, 1991 8 min read
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Washington--To a casual observer, having a Republican President advance a comprehensive education proposal that captures the national spotlight might seem to be cause for unequivocal delight for the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

But for Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, America 2000--the strategy drafted by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and unveiled by President Bush in April--was a mixed blessing.

A former educator, Mr. Goodling shares many of the misgivings of the education community, particularly about the Administration’s proposals for school choice and national testing. And he was reluctant to lead the charge for Mr. Bush’s latest proposal after pushing an Administration-backed bill last year only to see it killed by senators of his own party.

Thus, he has found himself this summer in a somewhat uncomfortable, if familiar, position: working with Democratic colleagues to amend legislation he had no part in drafting and finds at least partially distasteful but feels duty-bound to promote.

“Yes, it’s very difficult,” he said in a recent interview, “because rightfully they look to me as ranking member to lead the effort on their behalf. But sometimes I know better. I know what it’s like in the real world.”

An Experienced Educator

Mr. Goodling can make that statement with some authority, since he probably has more education experience than any other member of the Congress. He has served as a teacher, a high-school principal, a superintendent, and a school-board president in four school districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he grew up.

While Mr. Goodling pursued an education career, his father, George A. Goodling, was serving six terms in the House. The younger Goodling won the same seat in 1974, and quickly began compiling his seemingly disparate voting record.

Mr. Goodling is viewed as a stalwart Republican on labor matters, on which he generally takes the side of business. He opposes legislation to mandate family-leave policies and bar the hiring of permanent re placements for strikers, for example, and has termed the Democratic civil-rights measure “a lawyers’ bill.”

But his education record has won him a wall of awards from education groups and the occasional ire of executive-branch Republicans.

“Sometimes I wonder whose side he’s on,” said an Administration official who lobbies the Congress on education issues. “It doesn’t exactly make us cheer when a Republican criticizes us.”

“On the other hand, a more partisan member would not be able to work with the majority on shaping legislation,” the official added. “A conservative would never have got ten [last year’s omnibus bill] out of committee.”

Mr. Goodling became the Education and Labor Committee’s top Republican only in 1989, after James M. Jeffords of Vermont moved from the House to the Senate. But as ranking Republican on the subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education, the 64-year-old Pennsylvanian has been a key player on education issues for more than a decade.

Countering Reagan’s Plans

In the early 1980’s, Mr. Goodling was a high-profile opponent of Reagan Administration proposals to pare education and child-nutrition programs. He was among a handful of Republicans who countered the Administration’s sweeping block grant proposal with an alternative that retained compensatory- and special-education initiatives as separate programs.

The alternative proposal, which was reflected in the legislation ultimately passed by the Congress in 1981, also retained rules preventing school districts from using Chapter 1 funds to supplant their own spending.

“As a school administrator, I know that I didn’t take care of special needs of youngsters very well be cause it wasn’t something you could easily sell to our school board and your local taxpayers,” Mr. Goodling told The New York Times in 1982.

Mr. Goodling also criticized the Administration’s efforts to cut education funding, and termed the Reagan proposal to turn Chapter 1 into a voucher program “a disaster.”

“Let’s say that during the Reagan Administration there were times at midnight that I wondered whether I would have the same enthusiasm to go to battle when I got up four hours later,” Mr. Goodling said. “What saved me was my close relationship with Mr. Perkins and Mr. Hawkins and now with Mr. Ford,” he said, referring to the Democrats who have sat in the chairman’s seat during his tenure on Education and Labor. “Without that, I would say it was hopeless.”

Carl D. Perkins, the Kentuckian who helped create many Great Society and other social programs, was not known for a collegial attitude to ward Republicans. But Mr. Goodling’s rise to seniority has occurred during a period of relative bipartisanship on the Education and Labor Committee, at least when it comes to education issues. He enjoyed a particularly good relationship with Representative Augustus G. Hawkins of California, who retired last year and was succeeded by William D. Ford of Michigan.

Getting Beyond Access

During consideration of legislation reauthorizing elementary and secondary education programs in 88, Mr. Goodling supported the Reagan Administration on the most controversial issue--whether to allow more bilingual-education funds to flow to programs that do not use students’ native language.

But the House bill was a notably collaborative effort that ignored other major Administration proposals that both he and Mr. Hawkins opposed, such as a new Chapter 1 voucher plan and an initiative to aid magnet schools not tied to desegregation. At the same time, the measure also included accountability measures favored by Republicans.

“I’ve tried to get beyond the business of access, of what percentage of kids are being served, and talk about access to what,” Mr. Goodling said. “Over the last three years, every piece of legislation talks about accountability and excellence, rather than just access to the program. That’s the direction we’ve been moving in, and I hope that continues.

“Mr. Goodling said his stance was shaped by his experience during the early years of federal education aid, when, he said, “The federal government was throwing a lot of money at education and a lot of it was the biggest waste I’ve ever seen.”

The 1988 legislation included one of Mr. Goodling’s favorite initiatives, the Even Start program, Which funds education and other social services for disadvantaged preschoolers and their parents. He drew the idea directly from a project he launched as a principal in the 1960’s, which he said he was forced to end because it did not conform to Title I rules.

Mr. Goodling’s background also surfaced directly in the arguments he has made for years against proposals for increased standardized testing, including the ones in America 2000.

When Pennsylvania tried a testing program comparing districts, he recalled, the more affluent districts posted the highest scores.

“We really needed to spend a lot of time and money to find that out,” he said, the sarcasm evident in his voice. “You do testing to see how well you did in presenting the material and to go back and reteach,” Mr. Goodling said. “If you get away from that and it becomes a way to grade school districts, I think children will suffer. In some areas, testing can lock them in as early as kindergarten.”

Cool to Bush’s ‘Throw-Away’

Over all, though, Mr. Goodling thinks America 2000 is an improvement over the education bill Mr. Bush sent to Capitol Hill in 1989.

“The last proposal, in my estimation, was a throw-away. I didn’t think there was enough substance to get out there and fight the [Democrats’] two-to-one majority,” he said.

“I did it, but I had to pinch myself every morning to get out there. The new one has some good things in it.”

Mr. Goodling carefully avoided making specific comments, however, when America 2000 was announced this spring.

“I honestly don’t know what he’s going to do about this,” one aide said at the time.

In addition to his misgivings about the substance of Mr. Alexander’s plan, on which he had not been consulted, Mr. Goodling had begun 1991 in a bitter mood.

He had worked hard for passage of the 1989 Administration bill, on which he also had no input, using his friendship with Mr. Hawkins to break down the chairman’s refusal to consider the measure.

The House ultimately passed a compromise bill that included some Bush proposals, teacher-training programs sponsored by Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Goodling, and other Democratic initiatives. It also included a proposal to allow school districts to receive waivers of certain rules on the use of federal funds in exchange for performance agreements--a plan about which Mr. Hawkins had expressed considerable skepticism.

“I think what finally swayed [Mr. Hawkins] was that he believes my motives are pure, and that he trusts Bill Goodling,” said former Representative Peter P. Smith of Vermont, who sponsored the plan during his one term in the House.

But the bill was derailed by conservative Republican senators, largely because they opposed federal funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Mr. Goodling complained that the Administration had not worked hard enough to sway them.

‘12 Years of Loyalty’

Mr. Goodling was further irritated late last year when the Bush Ad ministration did not consult him about potential nominees to replace Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos. That slight rankled even more because Mr. Goodling had let it be known he might be interested in the job himself.

“They ought to be thanking me for busting my butt for something that I could have publicly said wasn’t the greatest thing that came down the pike,” Mr. Goodling told States News Service in December, referring to the 1989 legislation.

“Twelve years of loyalty is 12 years of loyalty,” he said. “From this point on, it has to be what I believe is right and proper.”

“I have never indicated to the Ad ministration that I would ever try to sell anything I didn’t believe in,” Mr. Goodling said this month. “If we couldn’t work out the program in such a manner that I felt it had merit, I would introduce it by request. That’s my responsibility, but that automatically sends out a signal to your colleagues that obviously he’s not enthused.”

He eventually did agree to introduce HR 2460, the legislation needed to launch much of America 2000.

“I think we can take the proposal, make the best parts of it better, take the questionable areas and either eliminate one or two or improve them in such a manner that we can sell it to the Congress,” Mr. Goodling said. “That’s my job. They can ally have to sell it.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 31, 1991 edition of Education Week as Rep. Bill Goodling: Caught Between Party and the ‘Real World’

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