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President Puts Education on 'Front Burner'

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Washington

During a day of events designed to raise the profile of his agenda for education, President Clinton last week urged parents and teachers to embrace a "whole ethic'' of lifelong learning to insure the nation's continued economic productivity.

"This is something that has to grip the American imagination. Government programs can't do it. Educational professionals alone can't do it,'' Mr. Clinton said in addressing 1,500 members of the American Council on Education. "There is something for all of us to do, but it begins here in Washington passing our agenda.''

The Feb. 22 speech, a session with education reporters afterward, and the signing of an executive order on Hispanic education the same day represented Mr. Clinton's most concerted effort to draw attention to education issues since taking office. Many observers in the field have said they were disappointed he did not make more use of the "bully pulpit'' to discuss education during his first year as President. (See Education Week, Jan. 26, 1994.)

Mr. Clinton's remarks to the A.C.E. included plugs for each of his education and training initiatives--from the expansion of Head Start to the proposed "school-to-work opportunities act''--that will come before Congress this year, as well as postsecondary programs that became law last year. He called them collectively his "seven-point agenda for lifelong learning.''

"The fact of the matter is, [education] is a front-burner issue,'' William A. Galston, a deputy domestic-policy adviser to the President, said after the speech.

"An enormous fraction of the legislative agenda'' revolves around education and training issues, he noted.

Legislative Differences

The burst of activity came during a week when the full House began consideration of HR 6, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the House and Senate neared work on their differing versions of the Administration's proposed "goals 2000: educate America act.''

In the private, 35-minute round table with education reporters, President Clinton said the Goals 2000 legislation "enshrines the national education goals that I deeply believe in.''

Mr. Clinton said the Administration will "work very hard in the conference [committee]'' on Goals 2000 to help resolve differences between House and Senate approaches to the controversial idea of "opportunity to learn'' standards, and that he has "a lot of confidence that it'll come out O.K.'' (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

He also said he would continue to fight to target federal Chapter 1 compensatory-education dollars to districts with the greatest concentrations of poor students, although the House Education and Labor Committee opted for a more incremental change in the current formula when it approved its version of HR 6. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

"It looks like we're about halfway toward where we're trying to go,'' Mr. Clinton said.

School Violence, Technology

In the session with reporters, the President also moved fluidly through a range of other topics, including:

  • School violence. Speaking soon after Bosnian Serb forces' pullback from their seige of Sarajevo, Mr. Clinton drew a parallel between the situation in Bosnia and the problem of violence in U.S. schools.

"People realized Sarajevo was like Humpty Dumpty. And if Sarajevo was destroyed, you'd never put the pieces back together again,'' he said. "I think, psychologically, people view schools that way. I think it is very hard for families and communities to thrive if they're scared to send their kids to school, and the kids are scared in the schools.''

  • Waivers from federal regulations. Mr. Clinton said provisions of his E.S.E.A. proposal that would allow the Secretary of Education to waive certain federal rules--an idea his Republican predecessors also supported--stemmed from his experiences in Arkansas.

He recalled an instance when a poor, rural school received a waiver to combine Chapter 1 and special-education funds, and to use the money throughout the 1st grade rather than only for specific students. The whole grade improved, he said, and four students who were going through 1st grade for a second time quadrupled their test scores.

  • School-finance equity. Mr. Clinton said he found as Governor of Arkansas that taxpayers would support spending on education more than on anything else, but that the federal government has little leverage on state and local governments other than Chapter 1 aid. He also said he hopes school-reform activity "will be resurgent in the 90's.''
  • Educational technology. He pledged to "give a lot of thought to guaranteeing universal access and making sure that schools and libraries and hospitals are fully hooked up, which will mean we will have to figure out how to get the hardware out to the schools and all that.''
  • Public support of education. The President said he hopes that retraining programs for adult workers will "broaden the base of support for education in general...[and] people will begin to see it as a seamless web, as an integral part of their lives, and will begin to see that it is inevitable that education should absorb a larger percent of our annual income.''

'Human Capital'

As part of the push to highlight education, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich spoke to reporters at the White House last week about the Administration's education and training agenda.

Mr. Reich called the Administration's emphasis on setting high standards in education and worker training "a very, very different approach ... to our most valuable resource in our economy, and that is, to use a cold-blooded term, human capital.''

That approach, Mr. Clinton said in his A.C.E. speech, begins with early-childhood health care and education, noting that the Administration has proposed significant funding increases in the childhood-immunization and Head Start programs.

Mr. Clinton last week also signed an executive order rechartering the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans and giving it broader authority to increase federal, state, local, and private-sector involvement in providing educational opportunities for Hispanics.

The commission, set up during the Bush Administration, will now be able to ask federal agencies to provide information on Hispanics who participate in the programs the agencies fund, and report to the President on their efforts.

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