Ballot Box

September 16, 1992 3 min read

President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas have savaged each other’s education policies in recent weeks, and both made inaccurate statements in the heat of battle.

Mr. Clinton charged in a Sept. 30 speech at a Maryland community college that Mr. Bush has tried to cut student aid.

“If Congress had let him get away with it, George Bush would have cut off Pell Grants for 400,000 students this year alone,’' Mr. Clinton said. “He tried to change the law so, if you make $10,000 a year, you’re too rich for a college grant from the federal government, even though, if you make $300,000, you’ll still be sure to get a capital-gains tax cut.’'

Mr. Bush did not propose cutting off all grants to students from families making more than $10,000 a year, but did propose cutting back on such students’ aid in order to provide larger grants to the neediest students, a plan that analysts estimated would cost 400,000 students their grants.

Mr. Clinton also charged that Mr. Bush had proposed cutting the deficit by increasing interest on student loans, an idea that was an option the Administration offered in a midyear budget report.

The Bush campaign counterattacked with charges that Arkansas students’ scores on achievement tests have declined during Mr. Clinton’s tenure.

According to the state education department, scores on state competency tests and nationally normed tests have risen steadily during the past decade. However, students’ scores on college-entrance exams are stagnant, and are low compared with other states.

At a Sept. 2 news conference, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said Mr. Clinton “must have mixed up his plans with our plans.’'

“Under four years of President Bush, more college students received federal loans and grants than ever before,’' Mr. Alexander said. “Spending on Pell Grants is up 50 percent in four years.’'

“We have moved to make grants and loans available to working people who take one course at a time,’' he continued. “The Education Department, and principally grants and loans for college students, gets the largest increase’’ in the President’s fiscal 1993 budget proposal.

While it is true that the Education Department would fare far better under the 1993 budget plan than other domestic agencies, and that the plan includes substantial hikes for some student-aid programs, half of the overall spending increase would go toward vouchers and the America 2000 education strategy.

Pell Grant spending has not quite climbed 50 percent during Mr. Bush’s tenure, as Mr. Alexander asserted. The program received $4.5 billion in fiscal 1989 and $5.4 billion in 1992. Mr. Bush proposed $6.3 billion for 1993.

While the Administration did propose extending aid to less-than-half-time students, the proposal was made months after lawmakers had included the idea in pending legislation.

And Mr. Clinton has not proposed forgiving $63 billion in currently outstanding loans, as Mr. Alexander claimed--although the Democrat has not explained how he would finance his plan to offer loans that could be repaid through community service.

Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued a blistering statement Sept. 3 challenging some of the Administration’s statements on student aid.

While the amount of aid may have increased, and more students are receiving it, Mr. Ford said, the amount of aid available has decreased in constant dollars.

Mr. Ford’s statement began with a remarkably nasty swipe at Mr. Alexander.

“When the Secretary was first appointed he had the excuse of inexperience for his erroneous statements,’' Mr. Ford said. “Now, one can only conclude that he is either a very slow learner or one who deliberately ignores the facts.’'

On Sept. 9, President Bush personally went on the attack in a campaign speech devoted to education policy.

Speaking at a high school in Norristown, Pa., Mr. Bush said that assertions he has cut education programs are “flat wrong.’' He said he has proposed “record increases’’ and that federal education spending has increased at a more rapid rate than state and local spending during his tenure.

The $1.6 billion increase Mr. Bush proposed for the Education Department in his 1993 budget would indeed be one of the largest ever. However, federal statistics indicate that the percentage of education funds provided by the federal government has decreased.

Mr. Bush also attacked Mr. Clinton’s record in Arkansas, asserting that the state ranks 48th in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas and “dead last’’ in the percentage of adults with college degrees.

But it is also true that both graduation rates and the percentage of students who go on to college have increased significantly during Mr. Clinton’s tenure.--J.M.

A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 1992 edition of Education Week as Ballot Box