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Clinton Signs Bill Cutting $574 Million From Education in Fiscal '95

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After a four-month review of federal affirmative-action policies, the Clinton Administration has issued a report arguing that those policies--including education programs targeting minorities and women--must be retained, citing "current discrimination, past discrimination, and the lingering effects of that past discrimination."

Moreover, Administration officials contended that the Education Department's policy on race-based scholarships remains viable despite recent court decisions that cast doubt on their constitutionality.

The 96-page report was issued by the White House last month in conjunction with a high-profile speech by President Clinton in which he strongly supported affirmative action.

"When affirmative action is done right, it is flexible, it is fair, and it works," Mr. Clinton said.

Campaign '96

The report and the President's remarks were eagerly anticipated, as affirmative action has come under fire from the Republican majority in Congress, Republican Presidential candidates, and other critics.

The same week that Mr. Clinton made his speech, the California board of regents voted 14 to 10 to abandon the use of racial quotas for admission to the various campuses in the state's system of higher education. A 15-to-10 vote ended the use of race and gender in the system's hiring and promotion practices.

The regents' action was cheered by Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican who is seeking the party's 1996 Presidential nomination.

Observers predicting that affirmative action will be an important issue in the 1996 campaign also noted the release last week of a bill by the Senate majority leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the G.O.P. Presidential front-runner.

His proposal would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against, or granting preference to, anyone based on race or gender in hiring, contracting, or other policies.

After Mr. Clinton's speech, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Dole, and other G.O.P. candidates attacked the President's stance.

California Cut-Off?

Meanwhile, the White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, and the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Deval Patrick, suggested that the regents' votes could cause California to lose some federal funding.

Federal officials in all agencies are analyzing the government's contracts and grants with the University of California system to insure that federal affirmative-action requirements are not violated.

Judith A. Winston, the Education Department's general counsel, said student financial aid would not be affected.

Institutions attended by students receiving financial aid are not required to maintain an affirmative-action plan, though they must abide by federal civil-rights statutes.

But Ms. Winston said that institutions receiving major research contracts must comply with a 1970 executive order requiring that grantees draft and maintain a written affirmative-action policy.

"There is reason to believe the University [of California] will continue to comply," Ms. Winston said.

Jack W. Peltason, the president of the university system, said it can continue to pursue strategies to achieve a diverse student body and faculty without using racial or gender quotas.

Minority Scholarships

The White House report's review of affirmative action in education focused mainly on a few small programs designed to bring women and minorities into such fields as science, teaching, and health.

But it noted that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a landmark 1975 law that guarantees children with disabilities a public education, "has significantly contributed to a steady decline in the dropout rate for children with disabilities and an increase in their graduation rate over the past five years."

The report also noted that scholarships based on race are now subject to strict constitutional scrutiny under Adarad v. Pena, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a rule setting aside a percentage of government contracts for minority-owned firms. (See Education Week, 7/12/95.)

But it suggested that the Education Department's policy on such scholarships--that institutions can use them to redress past discrimination or to promote diversity--is consistent with the ruling.

The report said the High Court's decision to let stand a lower-court ruling that struck down a race-exclusive scholarship at the University of Maryland--without issuing its own opinion--would not affect the department's policy.

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