N.E.A. Gets 9 Presidential Candidates' Responses

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Affiliates of the National Education Association may hope to endorse a candidate for President based on the contenders' responses to an nea questionnaire released last week, but they will not get much guidance from the replies.

Each of the eight announced or likely Democratic candidates who completed the questionnaire took exception to at least one item on the union's federal legislative agenda. But none of those differences involved "major ballpark issues," said Kenneth F. Melley, the union's director of government relations and political affairs.

Among the expected Republican contenders, only Senator Robert Dole of Kansas completed the questionnaire. He refused, however, to fill out a checklist in which candidates were asked to "agree" or "disagree'' with the NEA's legislative goals. According to Mr. Dole, the issues "are not black and white ones that can be accurately answered in an 'agree or disagree' format."

The three-part questionnaire failed to seek directly the candidates' views on some of the most controversial issues in education, such as performance-based pay and competency testing for teachers--both of which have been strongly opposed by a number of state NEA affiliates.

Performance-based pay is "not a federal issue," Mr. Melley said in explaining the omission. He added that open-ended questions included in the questionnaire had given the candidates a chance to express their views on such issues. No candidate, however, chose to do so.

All eight Democrats said they agreed with the NEA on the need for "substantial" increases in federal funding for public education. They also joined the union in opposing tuition tax credits and vouchers for nonpublic schools, parental-choice options that would supplant or reduce funding for public education, and a proposed constitutional amendment designating English as the official U.S. language.

Seven of the eight--the exception being Representative Patricia Schroeder of Colorado--also completed a videotaped interview with Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the NEA, last month. The union is still trying to schedule an interview with Ms. Schroeder.

To date, none of the Republican candidates has been interviewed. But Representative Jack F. Kemp of New York has agreed to be questioned Sept. 28.

Endorsement Process

Copies of the candidates' responses to the questionnaire and videotaped interviews were presented to the board of the nea's political-action committee last week and were mailed to the union's state affiliates.

State, regional, and local affiliates have been asked to hold hearings and discussions based on those materials and to report their members' views on a possible endorsement to the national office by early November.

On Dec. 3, at a meeting of the PAC board, Ms. Futrell will have the option of proposing that the union endorse one or more candidates in the Presidential primaries of either or both major parties. She could also recommend making a general endorsement of one candidate or no endorsement at all.

The union's board of directors is scheduled to meet the same day to consider the PAC's decision. A general endorsement would require the approval of delegates to the union's Representative Assembly.

Historically Democratic

The limited participation by Republican candidates in the union's endorsement process is not surprising. Since its first Presidential endorsement in 1976, the NEA has consistently supported Democratic candidates.

Mr. Melley argued, however, that the union is not a "single-party organization." Of its approximately 1.9 million members, he said, 600,000 have identified themselves as Republicans and 800,000 as Democrats. The remainder are either independents or have not stated a preference.

It is possible that the union would endorse a Republican, he said, but it cannot do so unless Republican candidates complete the union's process for scrutinizing the Presidential hopefuls.

Mr. Melley said the union's main contribution to candidates is in the form of active supporters. In 1984, for example, 340 NEA members were delegates or alternates to the national Democratic convention.

In addition, the NEA-PAC is expected to distribute some $4 million in contributions during the 1988 campaign, he said, making it the third-largest contributor to candidates of all national PACs.

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