Clinton, in Attacking Bush's Policies, Pledges 'Real Education Reform' Plan
In a speech billed as a "major address'' on education, Gov. Bill Clinton earlier this month charged that President Bush has tried to use the issue to score political points without backing up his rhetoric with either money or effort.
In laying out his credentials and platform, Mr. Clinton unveiled no major policy proposals.
But the apparent Democratic nominee for President drew together the pieces into a comprehensive whole, offered some specific commitments, and attacked the policies of the self-proclaimed "Education President'' more forcefully than he has in the past.
"America needs an education President who shows up for class every day, not just once every four years,'' the Arkansas Governor said in his May 14 speech at East Los Angeles Community College. "In the first 100 days of my administration, I'll give Congress and the American people a real education-reform package.''
"I'll work day and night to get it passed, unlike our current President, who often proposes and then leaves it to someone else to dispose of or not to act at all,'' Mr. Clinton added.
He said "the heart'' of the Bush Administration's America 2000 education plan "is to tinker around the edges,'' building 535 innovative schools "and leav[ing] the rest behind.''
Noting that he was one of first governors to enact a public-school choice law, Mr. Clinton said he is "unalterably opposed'' to Mr. Bush's other core proposal--"a voucher system to give people public money to take to private schools.''
"Now is not the time to further diminish the financial resources of [public] schools,'' he said, pointing out that state budgets are being "slashed.''
Mr. Clinton accused the President of reneging on promises to fully fund Head Start and to support bilingual education, job training, and adult literacy.
He cited a study concluding that Head Start now serves only 37 percent of eligible children, said the federal bilingual-education budget was cut 47 percent during the 1980's, and charged that Mr. Bush's proposed budget would kill four literacy programs and cut the number of people served by the Job Training Partnership Act by 224,000.
It is true that Mr. Bush proposed eliminating funds for the literacy programs, and that Head Start is far from fully funded.
But the Administration's J.T.P.A. proposal, which has essentially been embraced by the Congress in pending legislation, would reduce the number of trainees by focusing more intensive services on fewer, harder-to-serve individuals, not by cutting funding.
According to the National Association for Bilingual Education, federal bilingual funding did drop by exactly 47 percent--when measured in terms of constant dollars. Spending in absolute dollars increased.
Mr. Clinton said sarcastically that Mr. Bush has kept one promise, "When he said, and I quote, 'I don't believe it is the federal role to say the federal government will pay for every kid to be educated in college.'''
"He has taken bold, decisive action to keep that promise,'' the Governor said, by proposing to limit eligibility for Pell Grants to students from families earning no more than $10,000 a year.
Identifying the 'Gaps'
Mr. Clinton contrasted Mr. Bush's record with his own, calling education "the issue that I know most and care most about.''
He touted his "11 years as Governor on the front lines of the battle to revolutionize, revitalize, and reform education,'' as well as his key role in negotiating the national education goals adopted by the Bush Administration and the National Governors' Association.
Mr. Clinton diagnosed America's educational woes as a series of "gaps'': a gap between the efforts of the United States and other nations; "wide gaps in the level of readiness for children to start school''; an "opportunity gap'' manifested in inequities between schools in spending, teacher skills, and course offerings; "performance gaps,'' in which some schools outperform others with similar resources; and a "responsibility gap.''
He applied the latter phrase to students who do not work sufficiently hard or who default on student loans, "politicians who posture instead of act,'' parents who are not involved in their children's education, "bureaucrats who would rather shuffle paper than change lives,'' taxpayers who oppose education spending, and "teachers who have burned out and given up.''
The answer, Mr. Clinton said, starts with the development of "world class'' standards and assessments--which President Bush also strongly supports--and a commitment to providing a "level playing field'' that gives all students the opportunity to meet the standards.
Specifically, Mr. Clinton called for:
- Preschool "for every child who needs it,'' including full funding of Head Start.
- Increases in the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program to provide smaller classes in the early grades for disadvantaged children.
- A new student-aid program that would offer loans to all students, regardless of income, to be repaid through income-contingent payroll deductions or community service.
The aid proposal has been one of Mr. Clinton's signature programs,
and he accused President Bush of an "election-year conversion'' for
proposing a similar "lifelong-learning account'' last month.
- A federal effort to provide "security equipment'' for schools with crime problems and help cities "put more police on the streets.''
- An "all-out effort to increase our high-school graduation rate to 90 percent,'' including mentoring programs; apprenticeship programs for students who are not college-bound; alternative programs for troubled students; "incentives to stay in school,'' such as taking driver's licenses from dropouts; and programs guaranteeing scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students.
- A "Youth Opportunity Corps'' for dropouts, which would "pay them entry-level wages and help them develop self-discipline, learning skills, and skills training.''
- A national effort to teach every adult to read and give every working adult the opportunity to earn a high-school diploma within five years.
- A mandate that employers invest at least 1 percent of their payroll costs in worker retraining.
Mr. Clinton did not explain how he would fund his proposals, many of which are potentially expensive.
His own staff estimates, for example, that the student-aid plan could cost $8 billion a year.