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Clinton Leads Fight Against Budget Cuts

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Washington

If letters and phone calls cannot stop looming federal spending cuts in education and other social programs, maybe cookies will.

As President Clinton ratchets up his pro-education rhetoric to coincide with the first days of school, local officials and lobbyists are supplementing his protests with their own efforts to raise public awareness about how proposed cuts could affect communities.

In this vein, the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based umbrella lobbying group, is urging educators to hold bake sales to dramatize how local districts could end up scrambling for funds if $3.5 billion in school-spending reductions endorsed by the House become a reality. A counterpart spending bill is slated to begin moving through the Senate this week.

"The point here is that it's ludicrous to take that much out of education," said John B. Forkenbrock, the current president of the CEF. "And are we trying to resort to this type of fund-raiser to provide educational opportunities?"

There is not much time left for opponents of the cuts to influence the outcome. Congress will be working overtime this month to pass the 13 spending bills that will make up the federal budget for fiscal 1996, which begins Oct. 1. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)

And the Republicans who control Congress face pressure to cut $894 billion from the 1996 budget as a first installment on their pledge to balance the budget by 2002.

"We're getting the budget balanced so our children can have a secure future," the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Robert L. Livingston, R-La., said in an interview.

But it is the way that House Republicans proposed balancing the budget that brought a bipartisan group of 14 mayors and county officials here last week to kick off a nationwide public-awareness campaign called "B-Day," shorthand for "Budget Mobilization Day." Similar news conferences were held across the country by local leaders.

"It's time for Congress to balance the budget as mayors do," Seattle Mayor Norman Rice told reporters at a briefing here. "But we're asking Congress to balance the budget in a way that makes America stronger, not weaker."

The local officials complained that they were barely involved in the budget process, and highlighted House proposals to pare $1.1 billion from Title I programs, eliminate the $872 million summer youth-jobs program in 1997, and kill the State Student Incentive Grants student-aid program.

"These deep cuts will hurt and hurt badly," said Robert C. Janiszewski, the county executive of Hudson County, N.J. "Even the underpinnings of local education programs are under threat."

Though they also met with Mr. Clinton, the group stressed the bipartisan nature of its mission.

"Nobody agrees with all that the president wants to do, and nobody says that all Congress is doing is wrong," said Mayor Edward Rendell of Philadelphia.

Back to School

The Clinton administration could hardly do more to blast away at the GOP cuts, especially the proposed cuts in education, an old theme that not only underscores Mr. Clinton's convictions but also may be a political winner.

Last week, Mr. Clinton opened the school year in Selma, Calif., an agricultural town about 15 miles south of Fresno, where he told students, parents, and teachers at Abraham Lincoln Middle School that "education is not supposed to be a partisan political football, and it should not be when Congress returns tomorrow. We ought to all be on the side of education."

Mr. Clinton also taught a 40-minute history lesson to about 20 8th graders.

On Sept. 6, he invited a group of national business leaders to the White House to discuss the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. That program, which provides state and local grants for reform efforts, would be killed under the House spending bill.

This week, the president is to turn his attention to higher education in a speech at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. He is expected to issue a defense of his effort to revamp the student-loan program through direct government loans to students.

House Republicans have pledged to abolish the new program, and lawmakers have until Sept. 22 to come up with a plan to trim $10 billion in student-aid spending over seven years as part of an overall reconciliation package.

Many Cabinet members are also taking part in back-to-school activities organized by the Department of Education. And Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's schedule is packed with school visits, meetings with educators, and speeches, including one last week at the National Press Club.

On the Stump

Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith called the activities "examples of the force of [the president's] commitment. He's made [education] his top domestic priority, and you'll see more and more of it."

Mr. Smith said the president and his Cabinet have been on the stump for some time but their rhetorical efforts on behalf of education programs have gotten scant attention in the national media.

"On the other hand, there's been an awful lot of [media coverage] at the small-town or the medium-sized-town level," he said.

Some education groups are also targeting the local market, including the National Education Association, which is to kick off a public-awareness campaign this month.

A union official said that community-outreach efforts and media campaigns will downplay big numbers and focus on the number of students who would be affected by education cuts, especially in the Title I compensatory-education program, student loans, and anti-drug-abuse programs.

"We will focus on our 2.2 million members, but in this particular funding crisis, our members will be reaching out to the general public," said Mary Elizabeth Teasley, the director of government relations for the nea.

In other lobbying efforts:

  • The American Association of School Administrators is sponsoring a "National Call-In Day to Save Education" on Sept. 14, when it hopes opponents of the cuts will call their members of Congress.
  • The Save America's Families Coalition, a new group formed by organizations representing public employees, senior citizens, and others concerned about social-program cuts, is to launch a $2 million media campaign this week.
  • Hundreds of college students were planning a rally Sept. 12 on the steps of the Capitol to protest possible student-aid cuts. The rally was to be part of a "State of Emergency on Student Aid Week" sponsored by the Student Alliance for Educational Access, an organization of college students that began on Washington-area campuses.

But Chairman Livingston, who will be a leading player in this fall's debate, added a note of chilly reality, issuing this warning to those who hope to turn the fiscal tide: "They have to understand that this is not a Democratic Congress, and the days of incessant spending are over. We're not going to back off our efforts to balance the budget."

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