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Public Divided Over Proposed Child-Care Cuts, Poll Finds

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The American public is evenly divided over Congressional efforts to cut federal child-care aid, according to a recent poll.

The welfare-reform bill debated on the House floor last week would consolidate most federal child-care programs into a block grant to the states, saving about $2 billion over five years, according to Republican leaders. (See Education Week, 3/1/95.)

In the survey of 1,000 registered voters, 47 percent of respondents said that reducing federal child-care assistance would be a mistake, while 46 percent said the cuts could be made without compromising the supply or quality of child care.

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed opposed a provision of the bill that would eliminate a requirement that federal money be used only in child-care settings that meet state health and safety standards.

A stronger majority--67 percent--agreed that the government should help pay for child care for mothers on welfare who are required to work. Sixty-four percent said such assistance could help mothers in low-income families stay off welfare.

Barbara Reisman, the executive director of the Child Care Action campaign, said the poll--which was conducted for the advocacy group by Republican pollster Vince Breglio--"shows that the American people understand the connection between child care and work."

House Republican leaders are under pressure from their own members to tighten the income limits for a proposed family tax credit so that it would be less costly and would focus more on the middle class.

A bill already passed by the Ways and Means Committee, embodying an item in the House G.O.P.'s "Contract With America," proposes a $500 per-child tax credit for families making up to $200,000 per year.

But critics say the five-year, $105 billion price tag of that tax cut would make it harder to balance the federal budget, and would benefit the rich at a time when programs for the poor are being trimmed.

This month, 102 of the 230 House Republicans signed a letter supporting an amendment that would limit the credit to families with annual incomes up to $95,000.

President Clinton backed the idea, and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said last week that the proposal was "not out of the question."

But conservatives vowed to fight for the original plan, and the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council have started telephone and letter-writing campaigns in its behalf.

The full House is expected to take up the issue next month.

The Clinton Administration brought about 100 college-newspaper editors to the White House last week for "College Media Day." It featured a meeting with President Clinton and a series of briefings with Cabinet officials, who sought to enlist the young journalists in fighting such Republican proposals as eliminating the in-school interest subsidy on subsidized college loans.

"We're unwilling to take a step backward," said Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, adding that cutting the subsidy would drive up the cost of a degree and threaten access for lower-income students.

He and Deputy Secretary Madeleine Kunin also argued that Mr. Clinton's direct-lending plan would result in fewer loan defaults, better service, and greater accountability--as well as saving money.

Mr. Riley called proposed measures to cap direct lending "a shortsighted move."

When the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole of Kansas, called this month for dismantling the Education Department, he said the agency typifies the "Washington-knows-best mindset [that empowers] 'educrats,' the [National Education Association], and the political elite at the expense of parents and school boards and local communities."

Mr. Dole, who is expected to announce his bid for the Presidency next month, went on to belittle the law that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which he voted against.

"Just last year, a 1,000-page, $65 billion education bill passed Congress. It was full of new regulations that dictate how schools should discipline students, what parents and teachers should discuss in their conferences, and the average annual salary of assistant coaches in men's and women's athletic programs," Mr. Dole said at a National Newspaper Association conference here.

"It even created a special assistant to the Secretary of Education for gender equity," he said. "What is gender equity, anyway? And why are these things the federal government's business?

--Laura Miller, Mark Pitsch, & Meg Sommerfeld

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