Picture Mixed For Education, Clinton Team

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When President Clinton took the oath of office one year ago this month, he was likely the first man to arrive at that point with a national reputation resting substantially on his involvement in education issues.

Mr. Clinton had been a central player in the drafting of the national education goals, for example, and received widespread notice for a series of education-reform bills he pushed through as the Governor of Arkansas.

His Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, earned a similar reputation by forging a consensus on education reform as the Governor of South Carolina.

But in their first year in office, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Riley have turned in a mixed performance on education, say lobbyists, Congressional aides, lawmakers, and other observers.

While the Clinton Administration has set out an ambitious legislative agenda in the education field, they say, it is just now recovering from some early legislative missteps.

Moreover, neither Mr. Riley nor the President has used the federal "bully pulpit'' to spark a national debate about education issues, a tactic used successfully by some of their Republican predecessors.

"You talk to people who aren't education-policy gurus and they say the only thing [Clinton has] said about education is where he's going to send his daughter to school,'' said Michael Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Planting Seeds

Mr. Riley acknowledges that he and the President have not given education issues a high profile.

"It's very clear that '93 was a year for education to plant seeds, lay the groundwork,'' the Secretary said in a meeting with reporters last week. "If you look at '93, you didn't see the heavy power of the office driving education because I don't think we were ready for that.''

However, Mr. Riley said, the Adminstration has tried to change the national debate on public education "away from the crisis-laden bashing of education ... to one of acknowledging the great need for fundamental change.''

And he noted that the Administration has spent its time and energy advancing a slate of legislative proposals that Congress is expected to pass over the course of this year.

That list includes the Administration's education-reform strategy, the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act''; legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which includes most of the large federal programs in precollegiate education; the Administration's proposed "school-to-work opportunities act''; a bill to reorganize the Education Department's research arm; and safe-schools legislation, another Administration initiative.

A Rocky Start

The Administration got off to a rocky start with Congress and with the education lobby here.

Administration officials hoped to score a quick legislative victory with the Goals 2000 bill, which is essentially a retooled version of a proposal Congressional Democrats had drafted as a response to President Bush's education plan.

They viewed the Goals 2000 bill, which would establish a federal role in developing a voluntary national system of academic standards and assessments and provide grants to fund state and local reforms, as a framework that would set the stage for the upcoming reathorization of the E.S.E.A.

But Secretary Riley and his advisers apparently overestimated Congressional enthusiasm for the Goals 2000 concept, and had to engage in long negotiations with House Democrats.

When the Secretary briefed members of the House Education and Labor Committee on the matter, Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the panel's chairman, took the unusual step of scolding Mr. Riley in this semi-public forum for not seeking enough input.

"I imagine he [Mr. Riley] would tell you privately if he knew he wouldn't be quoted that it was easier dealing with the ranking member and the Republicans on the committee than with the majority,'' said Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the committee's ranking Republican.

Mr. Riley and his advisers rejected advice from Congressional aides and lobbyists to include the bill's provisions, and possibly the new school-to-work program as well, in the E.S.E.A. bill.

"The Administration was very interested in the goals bill; Congress was very interested in E.S.E.A.,'' said John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel to the committee. "But this is Monday-morning quarterbacking.''

Observers say the episode delayed other efforts, noting that the E.S.E.A. reauthorization has yet to be considered by House and Senate committtees. They say it also illustrated Administration officials' unfamiliarity with Congress.

But Congressional aides also say that the Administration--and specifically Mr. Riley's combination of genteel manners and steely resolve--has smoothed over some of the rough spots that were exposed earlier.

One Senate Democratic aide said, for example, that Mr. Riley's gentle persuasion has helped to secure enough votes to pass Goals 2000 in the Senate, where conservatives might have been able to prevent proponents from shutting off debate. Floor consideration may come as early as this week.

An aide to Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and its Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, said the prospects for the Administration's education legislation and its budget are bolstered because Mr. Riley is "not only almost universally respected, but liked.''

"I don't think you can ignore personalities in this,'' the aide said. "It makes a big difference.''

Grumbles Over Funding

At the same time Administration officials were smoothing the ruffled feathers of House Democrats, they also encountered some unexpected resistance from education lobbyists.

Early last year, the President proposed an education budget for fiscal 1994 that included only a small increase in discretionary spending, proposed eliminating several programs, and allocated most of the increase to the Administration's new initiatives.

Education groups, which had expected to find an ally in Mr. Clinton, were reluctant to criticize him as sharply as they had his G.O.P. predecessors. But they were not pleased.

"We were disappointed that this Democratic Administration really didn't differ that much from the previous Republican administrations when it came to putting your money where your mouth is with education,'' said Barmak Nassirian, the assistant director for federal relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

And Administration officials were clearly somewhat surprised at this reaction, since they thought the budget contained significant investments in education. But such funding was not contained within the categorical programs for elementary and secondary schools that the education lobby is accustomed to protecting.

"We didn't catch on until much later that he was not talking about investment in schools as much as investment in a much broader set of issues such as Head Start, school-to-work, and national service,'' said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "It was one part misunderstanding and a second part raised hopefulness.''

Added Mr. Kirst: "He's looking at the education of 45-year-old aerospace engineers here in California as well as school kids.''

In addition, the department did not spend "any time marketing their cuts,'' Mr. Natcher's aide said. "They spent their time marketing their pluses without understanding the two go together.''

This problem will not disappear; the President's fiscal 1995 budget is expected to propose similar cuts. Lobbyists say they are hoping for "balance.''

The Bully Pulpit

Observers note that when Mr. Clinton has spoken about education, he has devoted most of his public time to touting his national-service program, under which young people can earn college vouchers or reduce their loan debt in exchange for service.

And critics say Mr. Clinton hoodwinked the public on this issue. He promised as a Presidential candidate that all young people would have a chance to earn money for college through service, but only 20,000 students will receive such aid in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

"Credit [Mr. Clinton] with the slickness with which he pulled a fast one,'' Mr. Nassirian said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Riley has kept a low profile himself, and critics say this has hurt the visibility of education as a national issue.

The Secretary "is a very different public person than at least two of his three most immediate predecessors,'' said Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association.

"Bill Bennett and Lamar Alexander had extremely high public visibility, somewhat masking that their administrations lacked a significant education agenda,'' Mr. Edwards said. "Riley is a much less visible national spokesperson in some respects, but far more involved in the development and implementation of education policy.''

Mr. Riley acknowledges his shortcomings as a national figure, and this month he began a flurry of appearances around the country designed primarily to garner publicity, both for Goals 2000 and for education reform generally.

Reinventing Government

President Clinton is generally given high marks for several initiatives designed to increase the effectiveness of government.

In the education field, the Administration helped win Congressional approval for a new direct-loan program, under which the government will make college loans directly to students through their institutions.

The program is intended to save money for both students and the government and simplify the lending process. Education Department officials hope it will also help them tighten management of the program, which observers agree has been woefully inadequate.

Deputy Secretary Madeleine M. Kunin told reporters last week that the department's implementation of direct lending will provide a focus for its efforts under the broader "reinventing government'' initiative headed by Vice President Gore.

"The cumulative effect is a change in the whole bureaucratic culture,'' she said.

Vol. 13, Issue 18

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