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Clinton Urges Educators To Join Defense of School Programs

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Saying he is engaged in a "classic battle" with Congressional Republicans over the federal government's role in education, President Clinton last week issued the most impassioned defense of his education record to date and urged educators to join the fray.

"You've got my word: I will fight for the education and training reforms that will keep us on the move," the President told a meeting of more than 1,000 members of the American Council on Education in San Francisco last week. "And I want you to fight for them, too."

While he did not threaten to veto legislation that would tinker with his education initiatives or the more established federal K-12 and higher-education programs, Mr. Clinton's remarks were meant to define the fundamental differences in education policy between his Administration and the Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"The President is using this week to draw the line on some very fundamental issues," Gene Sperling, a deputy assistant to the President for economic policy, told reporters.

'Cut and Gut'

In his 36-minute speech, Mr. Clinton made a pitch for his "Middle Class Bill of Rights," a proposal designed to help middle-income families pay for postsecondary education and training.

But the President's focus was on his overall education agenda, and particularly programs created while he has been in office.

Since the midterm elections, when voters handed Republicans control of Congress, Clinton Administration education initiatives have faced repeated attacks.

In jeopardy--in addition to the continued existence of the Education Department--are the Goals 2000 education-reform strategy, the AmeriCorps national-service program, the expansion of Head Start, and a new program in which the federal government makes student loans directly to students through the colleges they attend.

Top Republicans, Mr. Clinton said, see "education at the national level as just another area to cut and gut."

Instead, federal education programs are vital in helping American workers adapt to a changing global economy, the President said, repeating a sort of mantra that has become an important theme in recent weeks. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1995.)

"At the heart of all three of the responsibilities that I said the federal government has--expanding opportunity, empowering people, enhancing security--is your work: education," he told members of the A.C.E.

Mr. Clinton said that throughout his political career he has "not budged from this conviction [that education is] the key to opening the American dream for all Americans."

In making his remarks, the President drew on his record as a Governor who put education at the top of his agenda.

Record as Governor

He said he has spent his tenure in Arkansas and Washington urging government reforms that emphasize accountability, excellence, and education.

He also expressed pride in being one of the governors "who reached across party lines to work with the National Governors' Association and with President Bush" to write the six original national education goals.

The Administration's Goals 2000 reform strategy, he said, is a product of that agreement and is an effort to "inspire reform at the grassroots level."

Mr. Clinton attacked Republican proposals to withdraw the in-school interest subsidy for student loans, cap the direct-lending program, and eliminate or scale down AmeriCorps.

Removing the interest subsidy "would be the biggest cut in student financial aid in the history of the United States," the President argued.

Last year, Mr. Clinton used his remarks to the A.C.E., a group representing more than 1,600 higher-education institutions and associations, to outline his education and training agenda. (See Education Week, March 2, 1994.)

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