State of the Union Address Will Highlight Education
Expanded access to higher education, a new program of teacher training, and increased funding for small schools are among the items that President Clinton plans to promote in his State of the Union Address and fiscal 2001 budget proposal.
The president, a leading proponent of the federal role in education, is expected to make education issues a centerpiece of his Jan. 27 appearance before a joint session of Congress. It will be the last time Mr. Clinton addresses lawmakers and the public in a State of the Union speech.
Last week, the White House announced a "New Opportunity Agenda," a broad plan to allow tax credits and incentives for higher education and training, and to create new programs to help minority students stay in college and assist colleges that serve large minority populations.
The plan calls for $30 billion in federal income-tax incentives over 10 years to allow families to receive tax deductions or credits of $10,000 for any higher education expense, building on the federal Hope Scholarship tax breaks enacted in the 1997 budget. It would also increase the maximum Pell Grant from $3,300 to $3,500 and expand college work-study opportunities.
"Making college tuition tax-deductible is an idea whose time has come," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at a White House ceremony held to unveil the proposal. "President Clinton's plan does this idea one better by giving families in lower tax brackets the same benefit as their wealthier peers."
Vice President Al Gore, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to succeed Mr. Clinton, has also been at the lectern this month to announce several K-12 budget proposals, including:
•$120 million for the Small, Safe, and Successful High Schools initiative, a program that would build on a $45 million program that was first funded last year;
•$30 million for a new program to better train early- childhood instructors; and
•An additional $100 million, for a total of $247 million, for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program, a collaborative effort that bridges the services of several federal agencies. The White House also announced this month that it will continue for the fourth year the drive for federal funding for school construction. Mr. Clinton is seeking to expand his previously proposed $3.7 billion plan to help pay interest on school construction bonds to include a new $1.3 billion pot for emergency repairs and renovations. ("Clinton Renews Call for Construction Funds," Jan. 12, 2000.) The small-schools initiative, would give competitive grants to districts to either create smaller high schools or break up larger schools through programs such as schools-within-schools, career academies, or restructured school hours. The grants could also be used for planning, extended learning time, or support services.
"The idea is simple: Small schools give kids a big boost," Mr. Gore said in announcing the initiative. "Smaller schools mean more personal attention to the varied needs of all our children."
Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, praised many of the goals behind the administration's higher education and small-schools proposals. But he questioned the need for new federal programs to accomplish those goals.
"I am disappointed ... that the president still sees the need to create new federal programs and new bureaucracies for proposals when existing programs could be used," he said in a written statement last week. Rep. John R. Kasich, the Ohio Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, attacked the administration's plans in stronger terms. He called the announcements "Clinton's budget-busting trial balloons."
Mr. Clinton's proposed professional-development initiative for early-childhood educators builds on the recurring theme of teacher quality, a priority both the White House and Congress have promoted. The proposed program, which is also included in the administration's reauthorization proposal for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, would give competitive grants to local entities that provide teachers with training to better teach literacy and language skills. The program would serve early-childhood teachers who work with students in high-poverty areas. The White House's Fiscal 2001 budget proposal is slated for release on Feb. 7.
Once again, Mr. Clinton wants to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, a 2-year-old initiative that provides insurance for children from lower-income families. He has proposed spending about $76 billion over the next 10 years to insure more than 5 million children. Currently, about 2 million children are enrolled in the program.
Vol. 19, Issue 20, Page 19