Chairman of Migrant-Ed. Panel, Lawmakers Square Off

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Internal squabbling dominated a meeting of the National Commission on Migrant Education last week, as its chairman took exception to critical public comments two members of the Congress had made about a draft of the panel's upcoming report.

The chairman, Linda Chavez, engaged in heated arguments with one of the lawmakers, who are also commission members, and said she might resign--even though she and other panel members endorsed most of the changes the lawmakers wanted.

The proximate cause of the dispute was remarks made by Representatives William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, and Bill Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania, at a Feb. 27 gathering of the Interstate Migrant Education Council.

Mr. Ford chairs both the House Education and Labor Committee and the migrant-education council. Mr. Goodling, the House panel's ranking Republican, is also a council member.

The two lawmakers--who were not present simultaneously--slammed proposals they said were in the draft report, including eliminating state migrant-education directors and transferring program administration to school districts, and limiting eligibility to children who are currently migrant, according to sources present at the meeting.

Sources said both lawmakers, but particularly Mr. Ford, expressed displeasure at a draft recommendation that funding be neither increased or decreased. Both men said the draft could indicate the commission was hostile toward the migrant program.

The same day, a critical letter went out to Ms. Chavez, signed by Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat who is also a member of the study commission, as well as by Mr. Ford and Mr. Goodling. The brief note expressed "utter dismay'' that many conclusions in the draft were "counter to what we believe to be the direction of the commission and counter to our views of migrant education."

The lawmakers said in the letter and at the migrant-council meeting that they would not endorse the final report if it were not changed.

Ms. Chavez said she considered it "unethical" that the report was discussed publicly because it was a staff draft for members' discussion and had not been approved by the commission. She said she had not read it until last week, and found it "surprising."

Ms. Chavez argued that the draft's contents are now largely "irrelevant," noting that the commission agreed last week to remove many of its controversial proposals, including those regarding the role of the program's state directors and the eligibility of formerly migrant children.

The second day of the commission's two-day meeting featured a sharp dialogue between Mr. Ford and Ms. Chavez, who pressed the lawmaker for a "commitment'' not to discuss future commission documents publicly.

After several such attempts, Mr. Ford exploded in anger.

"Let me tell you I cannot indulge the luxury" of refusing to answer a question on education, he said, adding later: "The chairman of the education committee cannot say he doesn't know what the hell's going on.'' He said migrant-council participants "were all over us" with questions after an address by Mr. Goodling.

Mr. Goodling was more apologetic, and said in an interview that he would not object to a confidentiality agreement. He added that he had heard about the report's content from his staff and had not read it before he spoke at the council meeting.

"Probably all of us reacted too quickly," Mr. Goodling said.

He said Ms. Chavez was "trying to make a mountain out of a molehill" and that he hoped "she'd stay there and finish the job."

But Ms. Chavez said she was "deeply disturbed" by Mr. Ford's refusal to promise confidentiality. After Mr. Ford left last week's meeting, she suggested barring distribution of documents to members who do not attend meetings regularly.

A final report is due in September.

Vol. 11, Issue 25, Page 18

Published in Print: March 11, 1992, as Chairman of Migrant-Ed. Panel, Lawmakers Square Off
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