Education

A Full Agenda

January 17, 2001 3 min read
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President Clinton has addressed a wide array of education issues during his eight years in office. Here is a roundup of some of his major initiatives:
STANDARDS AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Building on earlier work by the National Governors’ Association and former President George Bush, the Clinton administration proposed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to provide grants to states to draw up and implement higher academic standards. The measure passed in 1994. Also that year, the administration succeeded in requiring states to set high standards for students in Title I programs in mathematics and reading or language arts, as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. In 1997, Mr. Clinton proposed a new system of voluntary national tests in reading and math; that proposal died after an outpouring of criticism from Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress.
TECHNOLOGY: In 1998, the Federal Communications Commission began awarding E-rate, or “education rate,” discounts on Internet access and other telecommunications services to schools and libraries nationwide. While this program is identified more closely with Vice President Al Gore than with President Clinton, it stands as one of the administration’s greatest successes. The administration also proposed a host of smaller programs, including the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, to help schools embrace new technology.
SCHOOL CHOICE: President Clinton vigorously opposed private school vouchers, but he was one of the first prominent Democrats to promote the charter school movement. He supported a provision of the 1994 ESEA reauthorization that set up a new program to help start charter schools; slightly more than 2,000 of these publicly financed but largely independent schools were operating as of late last year.
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Passed in 1994, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act provided seed money to states and communities for programs designed to help ease the transition from school to work, especially for students who don’t plan to attend college. The effort was generally deemed to be only moderately successful, and the future of this legislation, which sunsets this year, appears doubtful.
READING AND LITERACY: Mr. Clinton proposed a new program in 1997, called America Reads, that aimed to recruit 1 million volunteers to help elementary school students learn to read. Republicans countered with their own proposal, the Reading Excellence Act, which focused on teacher training and use of research-backed methods of teaching reading; that program passed in 1998. America Reads continues to tap AmeriCorps and work-study students to tutor elementary school students and is widely credited with spurring volunteer tutoring.
SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION: Also in 1997, Mr. Clinton addressed the issue of rundown school buildings, proposing a $5 billion, five-year program to help districts pay interest on bonds for school construction and renovation. The plan was vehemently opposed by Republican leaders in Congress, but Mr. Clinton kept pressing the issue for the next three years. Congressional appropriators agreed to a $1.2 billion program for emergency repairs and renovations in the fiscal 2001 budget.
MORE TEACHERS, SMALLER CLASSES: One of Mr. Clinton’s top priorities in his second term was federal aid for hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes in the early grades. Critics said the plan would usurp state and local authority, and they questioned whether schools could find enough qualified teacher-candidates. But the plan passed as part of last-minute budget negotiations in 1998; Republicans have since amended it to allow some money to be used for training and other purposes. To date, districts have hired 29,000 new teachers under the program.
HIGHER EDUCATION: Beginning in 1993, the Department of Education began its highly touted direct-lending program, in which students received college loans directly through their institutions instead of a loan agency or guarantor. Other initiatives that the administration succeeded in getting passed include the HOPE scholarship program, which offers federal income-tax breaks for college tuition, and the Gear Up program, which provides mentoring and scholarships to disadvantaged youths.
NATIONAL SERVICE: President Clinton came into office promising to create a “domestic Peace Corps” in which young people would receive money to attend college in exchange for performing community service. The AmeriCorps program that resulted in 1993 was smaller than Mr. Clinton had hoped, and for several years it faced stiff opposition from some Republicans in Congress. But it currently enjoys bipartisan support.
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A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2001 edition of Education Week as A Full Agenda


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