Educators Cheer Clinton, Seek Strong Signal in Schools' Behalf

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WASHINGTON--Pointing to Bill Clinton's record and his promise to "invest in human capital'' as a foundation for economic recovery, educators reacted jubilantly last week to the Arkansas Democrat's election as President.

But many acknowledged that Mr. Clinton faces several obstacles--including the budget deficit and the many issues competing for his attention--in translating those campaign pledges into practice.

During his first 100 days in office, the President-elect has promised to introduce an economic-stimulus package and a proposal for health-care reform. He has not spelled out where education fits into the mix.

Nonetheless, schoolpeople, most of whom supported Mr. Clinton enthusiastically, said in interviews last week that they remained convinced that, over time, he will forge an innovative--and generous--federal role in education.

They also predicted that he would bring to fruition reforms that were thwarted during the Bush era by partisan bickering with Congress.

Solid information about the new Administration's game plan was scarce last week, and the transition effort appeared to be just getting under way. (See related story, page 22.)

The most immediate--and, for many, the most welcome--change that educators anticipated is a rhetorical one.

"The first thing that they can do, which is very important, is to stop this negative push against the schools--that they don't know what they're doing, that they can't solve anything,'' said Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of California.

"I expect the whole tenor of what comes out of the White House to change,'' said Keith B. Geiger, the president of the National Education Association. "We will hear from people who think the future of the country depends on improving our public schools, and we haven't heard that in a long time.''

They pointed to 12 years of rhetoric from the Reagan and Bush administrations that focused on the dire state of American education--ranging from the "crisis'' heralded by A Nation at Risk to the caustic comments of former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

Many viewed Mr. Bush's high-profile support for private school choice, in particular, as a direct attack on the public schools.

Mr. Clinton supports public school choice, but not vouchers. It is the most significant educational difference between the two men, and a key reason why so many educators threw their weight behind the Democratic contender.

The Future of Choice

Choice supporters last week downplayed the damage done to their nascent movement by Mr. Clinton's election, saying that it will continue to grow as experiments blossom at the state and local levels.

"There are 24 states that are already talking about private school choice programs,'' said Allyson M. Tucker, the manager of the center for educational policy at the Heritage Foundation. "Once you start a ball like this rolling downhill, it's very difficult to stop it.''

But others portrayed Mr. Bush's departure as a telling blow to the choice movement.

"It has been sustained heavily, if not primarily, because the bully pulpit of the Secretary and the President has made it a centerpiece,'' said Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which last month released a report that challenges the claims of choice advocates.

"Without that steady drumbeat of Presidential support and administration advocacy,'' added Mr. Boyer, a former commissioner of education in the Carter Administration, "it is going to find a more realistic place in the list of priorities.''

A Question of Packaging

Noting Mr. Clinton's pledge to move quickly on a plan for economic growth, observers predicted that his first education-related activities would fall in the areas of job training and the school-to-work transition.

"In terms of educational things that are closely related to the economy, this transition-to-work thing, and the improvement of training opportunities, is a very good one for him to do quickly,'' said Harold Howe 2nd, a senior lecturer emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former commissioner of education under President Johnson.

But educators disagreed on how Mr. Clinton should package and present many of his proposals. They differed, for instance, on whether he should introduce legislation to create a national youth-apprenticeship program early in his tenure.

"The things that Clinton has promised, I believe, will happen,'' said Samuel Halperin, the study director for the William T. Grant Foundation's commission on youth. "But exactly what form they take, no one at this point can say authoritatively.''

"I think there will be a lot of consideration having to do with how you package things,'' predicted Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and a Clinton adviser. "The answers to those questions are going to largely determine what gets moved quickly and what doesn't.''

'Who Bill Clinton Is'

Several educators with ties to the Clinton camp said he would try to create a holistic policy framework rather than introduce a long list of discrete programmatic initiatives.

Most observers pointed to the first 100 days as a crucial period--a time when the Arkansas Governor must make crucial appointments, lay out the themes of his administration, and advance his legislative proposals on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers are also expected to present the incoming President with new versions of several bills Mr. Bush vetoed, notably legislation that would require many businesses to offer employees unpaid leave for the birth of a child or a family medical emergency.

"The first thing he's got to do in the 100 days is to indicate who Bill Clinton is and what his priorities are,'' said Bert A. Rockman, a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of The Leadership Question: The Presidency and the American System.

"That's the problem Jimmy Carter had,'' he said. "Jimmy Carter sent up a torrent of legislation, but he didn't have any theme about it.''

Some educators also stressed the need to propose key education initiatives shortly after the first of the year.

Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "I certainly don't want to burden him with so many things that he's got to do in the first 100 days that it's going to fall of its own weight. But my initial view is that what you don't do in education early on is less likely to get done.''

Others, however, warned against setting unrealistic deadlines for Congress, a practice that infuriated the Democratic leadership during Mr. Bush's tenure. And they noted that Mr. Carter suffered from introducing too much too soon.

Budget a Clue

One of the first clear indications of where Mr. Clinton stands will come when he releases his proposed fiscal 1994 budget in early February.

But, because the budget is nearly completed, the Arkansas Governor will not have time to engineer major shifts in priorities, noted Michael Casserly, the acting director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

The first budget that will truly be his own will be for the 1995-96 school year, Mr. Casserly said, "so I think that it's going to be very difficult for him to make substantial education investments real quickly.''

Congressional aides expect Mr. Clinton to flesh out his proposals for providing universal access to student loans early in the 103rd Congress.

"I don't think that they've gotten very far in defining what they want that to look like or how they want to do it,'' one aide said.

'Licking Their Chops'

If Mr. Clinton is serious about investing in human and capital development, several people said last week, he will either have to raise taxes or cut programs more than he promised during the campaign.

Economists noted throughout the campaign that the Governor's revenue projections and his budgetary expenditures did not add up.

"He's working under the same constraints that Bush had,'' warned Charles O. Jones, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison: an enormous budget deficit and ballooning, mandatory entitlements.

Many conservatives predicted rampant government spending over the next four years. They said Mr. Clinton would have trouble saying no to the pent-up demands of a Democratic Congress and the special-interest groups that helped elect him.

"I'm sure there are many in Washington who are licking their chops at the idea of getting control of the department they cooked up,'' Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said.

And Gary L. Bauer, a former undersecretary of education in the Reagan Administration, predicted, "With one party in control of Congress and the White House, obviously they have an open hand to propose as large an education budget as they want.''

"In four years,'' he added, "it's going to be hard for the President to explain why it is they were able to spend the money but haven't gotten the results.''

'Kidding Themselves'

In contrast, the hopes of most educators for substantially more money from Washington remained muted.

"I'm pretty reserved as to promises that are made, as opposed to what actually comes out in the long run,'' said Glenna J. Smith, the principal of North Pines Junior High School in Spokane, Wash.

"I feel pretty strongly that Clinton is pro-education, and that he will do what he can to support education,'' she said. "But I think that we're probably in kind of a bind at this time, and that we may just have to hold on to things for a while and see where everybody fits into the picture.''

"In the field of education, there are a lot of competing claims,'' Mr. Halperin of the Grant Foundation noted. "If [educators] think that the cornucopia will come pouring out, they're kidding themselves.''

In addition to fully funding Head Start, Mr. Clinton has pledged to increase spending for Chapter 1 and social-service programs aimed at young children.

Reauthorization Key

While Mr. Clinton has not included major initiatives in elementary and secondary education on his list of early priorities, he will be obliged to put some proposals on the table his first year since Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the major precollegiate programs.

Congressional aides and lobbyists agree that the centerpiece of the legislation will be substantial changes in Chapter 1. Lawmakers are expected to debate proposals to change the remedial-education program's funding formula, revamp the system for evaluating the progress of Chapter 1 schools, target more funds to the neediest schools, and use the program to leverage systemic reforms.

Mr. Clinton has made veiled references to using Chapter 1 as a way to encourage states to equalize spending among school districts, but has not indicated that he would propose such a program this year.

Observers also expect the legislation to include provisions authorizing a federal role in developing national standards and assessments.

Some Democrats are reluctant to approve a national testing system, and have insisted that "school-delivery standards'' be created to measure the resources and performance of schools, an idea the Bush Administration adamantly opposed.

Like President Bush, Mr. Clinton has advocated a national examination system, but aides speculated that the former governor of a poor state might be equally reluctant to agree to delivery standards.

'Onus' on Them

While there are similarities between what Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton have proposed, several observers noted, Mr. Clinton may be in a better position to push reform ideas, such as national testing and deregulation, through a Democratic Congress.

But others warned that even a Democratic President should not expect total obeisance from a legislature that has grown accustomed to divided government.

And Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, noted that a number of Democratic lawmakers have resisted education initiatives that Mr. Clinton would be liable to pursue. "It would be interesting to see whether they would resist him in the same way'' that they resisted President Bush, he said.

Whether Mr. Clinton will provide Presidential support for some of Mr. Bush's initiatives--like the New American Schools Development Corporation and the America 2000 communities--remains to be seen.

In a January interview, Mr. Clinton praised the community-action aspect of America 2000, and 34 communities in his state are involved in the grassroots effort. Leaders of local America 2000 efforts, including Democrats, said they expected the efforts to continue and hoped that the new President would support them. (See Education Week, Oct. 28, 1992.)

"I will be the most surprised person in the world if the President-elect doesn't take the advances President Bush has made and try to do something with them,'' Secretary Alexander said last week.

Whatever they anticipate from the Clinton Administration, observers agreed that education is an area in which the new President will be expected to produce tangible results.

"The onus is really on [the Democrats] to make things work in the next four years,'' Mr. Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools said. "Otherwise, the revolt that they saw from the voters this year will look pretty tame, because they'll have no one to blame but themselves.''

Vol. 12, Issue 10

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