Federal File: From the mailbag; In self defense

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Thomas G. Tancredo, the Secretary of Education's regional representative in Denver, has again used federal funds to distribute a controversial document, a practice that has twice made him the target of Congressional ire.

But Mahlon Anderson, a spokesman for Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos, said Mr. Tancredo may literally be operating in safer territory this time.

Mr. Tancredo's recent mailing included a report from the Southwest Policy Group, a conservative think tank based in Edmond, Okla., that harshly criticized the "fatal attractions" of a proposed school-reform plan in that state.

Among the document's numerous findings is the statement that early-childhood education "may actually be damaging to many students compared to normal nurturing at home."

"Frankly, I think [Mr. Cavazos] may disagree with that," said Mr. Anderson, who characterized the tone of the document as "rather strong."

But Oklahoma is not in the federal region that Mr. Tancredo's office serves, Mr. Anderson said, so he cannot be criticized for improperly interfering in a state's political debate, as he was in 1988 when he endorsed a controversial voucher proposal in Colorado.

In 1985, the department apologized after Mr. Tancredo mailed to private schools in his region copies of a speech by a department official declaring that godlessness had overrun "this Christian nation."

"The regional representatives have a lot of latitude in looking at and sending out materials they think are provocative," Mr. Anderson said, "and no one can fault Tom Tancredo for not doing that."

Mr. Tancredo, who after the Colorado incident was directed "to avoid the appearance of such endorsements in the future," did not return calls seeking his comment.

In a recent interview on the Learning Channel, a cable-TV network, Mr. Cavazos said President Bush has "never once" expressed dissatisfaction with his performance or that of the Education Department.

"The day the President says, 'Pack it up, it's done,' I'll say, 'Yes, Mr. President,"' said the Secretary, whose imminent departure has been a persistent rumor.

"Style gets you nowhere," Mr. Cavazos said in response to criticism that he is too low-key. "If this Secretary of Education can move this nation into thinking about what it must do in the coming decade about education, what difference does it make whether you have someone who shouts, yells, screams, and tears their shirt?"--ws & jm

Vol. 09, Issue 20

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