Clinton Speech Issues Education 'Challenges'
President Clinton touched on a long list of education-related issues in his State of the Union Address last week, from school uniforms to school technology, and asked Congress to create $1,000 scholarships for top high school students.
In his hourlong speech before a joint session of the House and Senate, Mr. Clinton portrayed himself as eager to work out deals on a balanced budget and welfare reform despite an intransigent Republican Congress insistent on spending cuts "that undermine our obligations to our parents, our children, and our future."
The president did not specifically criticize proposed cuts in education spending, but did praise programs that have been targeted by the GOP, such as the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the AmeriCorps national-service program, and college work-study grants.
In delivering the Republicans' response to the speech, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the front-runner for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, called Mr. Clinton the "rear guard of the welfare state" and "the chief obstacle to a balanced budget."
"While the president's words speak of change," Sen. Dole said, "his deeds are a contradiction."
"He has chosen to defend an education establishment run by liberals whose goal is to operate every school in America by remote control from Washington," the GOP leader said.
Mr. Dole vowed that Congress would hold firm on "unfunding wasteful programs and meddlesome departments."
President Clinton named improving educational opportunities as one of seven "challenges" facing the nation, along with strengthening the family, insuring economic security, fighting crime, protecting the environment, maintaining a position of world leadership, and reforming government.
"Every diploma ought to mean something," he said. "I challenge every community, every school, and every state to adopt national standards of excellence, to measure whether schools are meeting those standards, to cut bureaucratic red tape. That's what our Goals 2000 initiative is all about."
Mr. Clinton touted his administration's efforts to promote public-private partnerships in school technology and urged Congress to join his mission to "connect every classroom and every library" nationwide by 2000. A bill that would authorize some $2 billion in federal aid for the effort over five years is expected from the White House in coming weeks. (See related story, this page.)
Mr. Clinton also proposed funding a $1,000 "merit scholarship" for the top 5 percent of graduates in every high school. Department of Education officials said the money would reach about 128,000 students and cost $128 million. Some higher-education advocates argued that the plan could shrink resources for the truly needy.
"It's hard for me to believe that anybody would not rally around it," Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said of the scholarship plan. "My sense is that the public believes that kids who work hard deserve rewards."
Republicans said Mr. Clinton was recycling a Bush administration idea, apparently referring to a plan enacted in the 1992 Higher Education Act amendments. It authorized a separate Pell Grant fund under which states would make awards to needy students based on academic merit. Congress has never appropriated money for it.
Mr. Clinton also called for higher Pell Grant awards and expanding the work-study program, and reiterated his proposal for a $10,000 tax break for families' college-tuition payments.
Mr. Clinton also backed some ideas with a conservative tinge. He said schools should be able to require students to wear uniforms, and he encouraged schools to promote character education that teaches "good values and good citizenship."
He also challenged states "to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job."
The Education Department awarded $6 million last year to help start charter schools in 11 states, and $20 million was requested for fiscal 1996.
As part of his challenge to "cherish our children and strengthen the American family," Mr. Clinton asked entertainment executives to make movies "you'd want your own children and grandchildren to enjoy."
He also called on Congress to complete work on a telecommunications bill, praising a provision that would require manufacturers to include in new television sets a so-called "v-chip" that would allow parents to screen out programs they felt were inappropriate.
In last year's State of the Union speech, Mr. Clinton issued a vague call to combat teen pregnancies. Last week, he announced the formation of a new organization "that will support grassroots community efforts" on that issue. Administration officials said the effort will be led by the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank here, and a bipartisan, 11-member board of directors will meet Jan. 30.
The day after his speech, President Clinton touched on some of the same issues in an appearance at Male High School, a public school in Louisville, Ky.
The president's speech and Mr. Dole's response were watched closely by educators nationwide. Several of them were asked for reactions.
"It was refreshing to hear the president," said Mark Slavkin, the president of the Los Angeles board of education. "He has the position to shift the nature of debate, and he used that well."
But Mr. Slavkin was disappointed that Mr. Clinton did not address GOP-proposed cuts in Title I and other education programs.
Don Roberts, the principal of 1,235-student Opelika High School in southeastern Alabama, said he "was a little surprised by the charter school and local-choice concept coming from Democrats."
"It may lead to divisiveness instead of unity," he said. "I don't think it would improve schools."
Maryjean Martens, a 5th-grade teacher in Fargo, N.D., said Mr. Clinton's speech lacked specifics and sounded like an effort to promise something to every constituency.
Ms. Martens, a Republican member of the National Education Association, was no less critical of Mr. Dole, saying that his response was "very primary-oriented," referring to the GOP presidential primaries that begin next month.
Mr. Clinton's endorsement of uniforms and character education hit a positive chord with Albert Thompson, the superintendent of the Buffalo, N.Y., public schools. The message could be "very helpful" in generating support for similar proposals on the table there, he said.
Several of the educators expressed doubts about whether the White House and Republicans in Congress can work together.
"I'm disappointed that the support for education has not been bipartisan," said Mr. Thompson. "That lines have been so strictly drawn between parties."
Added Mr. Roberts: "I'm real disappointed in our leaders. They're setting a terrible example by not being able to sit down and reach resolutions."
State of the Union Address
The following are excerpts from President Clinton's State of the Union speech delivered last week to a joint session of Congress.
Every diploma ought to mean something. I challenge every community, every school, and every state to adopt national standards of excellence, to measure whether schools are meeting those standards, to cut bureaucratic red tape so that schools and teachers have more flexibility for grassroots reform, and to hold them accountable for results ... I challenge every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job.
I challenge all our schools to teach character education: to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require the students to wear school uniforms. I challenge our parents to become their children's first teachers. Turn off the TV. See that homework is done. And visit your children's classroom. No program, no teacher, no one else can do that for you.
I challenge Congress to expand work-study and help 1 million young Americans work their way through college by the year 2000; to provide a $1,000 merit scholarship for the top 5 percent of graduates in every high school in the United States. ... More and more Americans are finding that the education of their childhood simply doesn't last a lifetime. So I challenge Congress to consolidate 70 overlapping, antiquated job-training programs into a simple voucher worth $2,600 for unemployed or underemployed workers to use as they please for community college tuition or other training.
The Republican Response
The following are excerpts from the GOP response, delivered by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.
The president has chosen to defend with his veto a welfare system that no one can defend--for it is a daily assault on the values of self-reliance and family. He has chosen to defend an education establishment run by liberals whose goal is to operate every school in America by remote control from Washington.
America's troubles are real, but our choices are clear and our will is strong. We must rein in our runaway government. Return power to the people, reduce the tax burden, put parents back in charge of our schools, untie the hands of our police, restore justice to our courts, and put our faith once again in the basic goodness, wisdom, and self-reliance of our people.
Yes, our country has problems. But we can handle them. Whether it's deficit spending or the welfare bureaucracy or our liberal courts or the trouble in our schools--what's wrong is that the elites in charge don't believe in what the people believe in. That we can fix. We know what made America great. All we need now is the resolve to lead our country back to her place in the sun. And the courage to speak for the future.
Vol. 15, Issue 19, Page 18, 21Published in Print: January 31, 1996, as Clinton Speech Issues Education 'Challenges'