Bill Goodling, a former schools superintendent in southern Pennsylvania who served 13 terms as a Republican congressman, staking positions on education that alternately delighted and riled his party's conservative members in the 1990s, died Sept. 17 at his home in York, Pa. He was 89.
His daughter, Jennifer Goodling, confirmed his death but did not know the cause.
The folksy Mr. Goodling — "just plain Bill," as he liked to say — was elected to the House in 1974, succeeding his father, Rep. George A. Goodling (R), in a district that included York.
A special-education teacher and principal before he became a superintendent, the younger Mr. Goodling had long been known as a political moderate. He sponsored a 1988 bill that created the Even Start literacy program, which aims to help illiterate parents learn to read at the same time as their children, and opposed attempts by the Reagan administration to cut funding for school lunches. The program, he recalled, had benefited his students in the district he led in Spring Grove, Pa.
The 1994 midterm elections delivered Mr. Goodling a jolt. He was chastised by his opponents for abusing a rule that allows House members to overdraw their bank accounts — a study by the House Ethics Committee found him to have 430 overdrafts totaling $188,000. The House banking scandal tarnished Mr. Goodling's appeal as a fiscal conservative at a time when the party base focused on economic restraint.
Mr. Goodling threw in his lot with the powerful conservative faction of his party, which was on the rise. An endorsement from Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) helped him win a tough reelection battle. After Gingrich was elevated to House speaker, Mr. Goodling was selected to chair what is now known as the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
He soon oversaw legislation that provided states and local school districts greater flexibility in determining everything from lunch menus to academic exams, and was criticized by school-lunch advocates for drafting legislation that reduced nutrition funding by $6.6 billion.
Mr. Goodling also spearheaded a successful effort to provide block grants to states for job-training programs, and introduced a 1995 bill that would have dismantled the National Endowment for the Arts, a frequent target for conservatives. The bill failed to pass but would have transferred most of the agency's funding to the states.
Still, Mr. Goodling tried to navigate a balance between harsh conservative measures and his more-moderate instincts. He irked some conservatives with his opposition to a voucher plan that would have set aside money to help children attend private schools. He also dismissed proposals to eliminate the Education Department.
"I don't understand what's going on," Mr. Goodling told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998, when he faced a conservative challenger during his reelection campaign. "I would just like to ask these people, 'Why are you trying to make us commit suicide, as a party?' But they could care less about that. This is all about imposing their own litmus test of what they think is pure. It appears that some people in our party belong to a species of the animal kingdom that eat their own."
Two years later, he declined to seek reelection.
William Franklin Goodling was born in Loganville, Pa., on Dec. 5, 1927. His father owned an apple orchard and served six terms in Congress, where he was a member of the Agriculture Committee.
Bill Goodling served in the Army before studying political science and history at the University of Maryland. He graduated in 1953 and returned to southern Pennsylvania to work as a high school teacher, guidance counselor and coach.
He received a master's degree in education from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in 1957 and married Hilda Wright that same year. She died in 2008. In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Todd Goodling, and a brother and sister.
Mr. Goodling chose not to run for reelection in 2000 in part because of a House Republican rule that limits chairman positions to six years. Shortly before leaving Congress, he helped found the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, an interdisciplinary wing of Pennsylvania State University.
He seemed to possess a gloomy view of the country in recent years. In a column he wrote in October for the York Daily Record titled "Is US next to fall from within?," he lamented what he described as a nationwide increase in violent crime and drug abuse, and diminished interest in religion.
"We are in World War III — a drug war," he wrote. "If we aren't as successful as we were in WWI and WWII, the answer to my question in the title is 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' "