Republicans Take Aim at Clinton Education Budget
Department of Education officials took their pitch for President Clinton's education package to a new audience last week, but they failed to round up more support for the proposed programs.
Citing concern for protecting local control, GOP appropriators criticized the president's proposals for new national tests, school construction aid, and a corps of volunteer reading tutors. The Republicans also expressed reservations about continuing funding for programs that have not proved effective.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told the House Appropriations Committee's education subcommittee that Mr. Clinton had put forward a "very bold budget" for fiscal 1998, with every new program carefully thought out to meet the country's needs. But the panelists offered little support for most of the new budget requests.
One target was an existing program, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. Anti-drug programs have come under scrutiny after a recent Education Department-funded study found that districts are not using programs consistently enough to do any good. ("School Drug-Prevention Programs Found To Come Up Short," Mar. 5, 1997.)
"It seems to me that this is not the time to increase [funding] when we haven't done a good job with the money we've spent," said Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Question of Control
Department officials have asked for $620 million, a $64 million boost from the current year, for education programs to fight drug use. Mr. Riley pointed to language that would require states to use the money only on research-based strategies that have proved to be effective.
The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, used the drug programs as an example to accuse Republicans of being too reluctant to hand control to local officials, despite their praises for local control.
"This country seems to worship at the altar of local control, but then [we] end up knocking our heads against the wall when it doesn't work," Mr. Obey said.
Other panelists questioned the necessity for the administration's plan to produce national standards and related tests in reading and math. ("Focus on Basics Key to Clinton Call For Testing," Feb. 19, 1997.)
Mr. Riley emphasized that the standards would be voluntary and would be aligned with the existing National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. In addition, he said, there is a need for national tests that give individual and school results, as Mr. Clinton's tests would.
"It would be an individual test where every parent would know where their child stands," the secretary said. As for the two subjects to be tested, "these are the very basics of all basics," he added.
Subcommittee Chairman John Edward Porter, R-Ill., said the issue suffers from a public relations problem.
"You need a shorthand way of explaining that what is not being proposed is nationally mandated standards," he said.
But Rep. Porter held back from endorsing the program.
IDEA, Hope Scholarship
Other members used the exchange with department officials to weigh in on other legislation.
Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr., R-Okla., brought a knife to the hearing to make a point about the need to update the nation's main special education law to allow districts to remove violent disabled children from the classroom.
The knife was taken from a dyslexic student at his children's high school, he said.
School officials were unable to suspend the student for more than 10 days because of the rights guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, he said, and the student ultimately returned to the same class.
Thomas Hehir, the director of the Education Department's office of special education programs, said the school could have gotten a court order to change the child's placement if the parents objected.
Rep. Istook objected to such intervention, though, saying a school should not have to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees to make classrooms safe.
At a separate House hearing last week, one member of Congress criticized President Clinton's higher education proposals as being too costly.
Rep. H. James Saxton, R-N.J., told the Education and the Workforce Committee that the so-called Hope Scholarship would raise costs for higher education institutions and for the Internal Revenue Service.
In addition, only those students whose families paid taxes would receive the $1,500 tax credit after the tuition was paid, he said, leaving out many low-income students.
But a Democratic member said the proposal was worthwhile, and urged committee members not to nitpick.
"I don't know anyone out there who gets a tax cut who says it's too complicated," Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said.