Clinton Previews Education Priorities in '98 Budget

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President Clinton says that the budget he proposes this week will make good on his campaign promises for education.

Proposals for college-tuition tax credits and a new literacy program, as well as a major expansion for K-12 technology spending, will highlight the spending plan the White House is scheduled to send to Congress Feb. 6, Mr. Clinton announced last week.

"The budget finally moves us beyond the false choices that have held us back for too long and shows that we can cut our debt and invest in our children," Mr. Clinton said at the start of an hourlong press conference.

While most of the details of Mr. Clinton's spending plan are secret, he gave his education proposals the spotlight in the opening statement of the Jan. 28 press conference as a counterbalance to an anticipated barrage of questions about the Democrats' campaign fund raising.

The sneak peak offered no surprises. Most of Mr. Clinton's statement included staples of last fall's stump speeches.

The president repeated his campaign calls for offering families the choice between an annual $1,500 tax credit or a $10,000 tax deduction to help with college costs; a five-year, $2.5 billion literacy program to recruit 1 million volunteers to help children learn to read; and $2.5 billion over the next five years to help pay for school computers and Internet hookups.

Mr. Clinton also announced a plan to reduce borrowers' student-loan fees by $2.6 billion over the next five years and his desire to raise the maximum Pell Grant for low-income students by $300, up to $3,000.

In addition, he said he wants the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to get a 26 percent increase in fiscal 1998, raising its budget to $600 million. He said that the federal charter school program should be doubled, from $51 million to $100 million.

Proposed spending for Title I, special education, and the rest of the Department of Education will be unveiled when Mr. Clinton formally sends his entire federal budget plan to Capitol Hill.

Battles Brewing

To bring his campaign proposals to life, Mr. Clinton will need to fight on several congressional fronts, and some leaders there already are expressing skepticism.

His college tax incentives will be handled by tax-writing committees as part of a mammoth plan to reform entitlement programs and reduce taxes while balancing the budget in five years.

Some Republicans have said they fear the plan would simply give colleges and universities reasons to raise tuition.

The literacy program, meanwhile, must be approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House committee, already is questioning the need for a new reading program, since Head Start, Even Start, and 30 other federal programs also are aimed at improving students' reading skills.

"This is a case where more may not be better," Mr. Goodling said.

Finally, Mr. Clinton's proposals to increase spending on Pell Grants, school technology, Goals 2000, and charter schools will be reviewed by the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

One GOP source familiar with the process expects Mr. Clinton to rely on cuts to Department of Defense programs to pay for increases in education, a move GOP leaders won't embrace. But in the end, Republicans may be scared to face off against Mr. Clinton on education issues after they lost the public relations war over the massive school funding cuts they proposed in 1995, the source said.

While Republicans sources grumble about the agenda for schools, Mr. Clinton is dedicating a lot of his time to it. He recently spent a day in Illinois schools highlighting their push to raise the student achievement. ("Clinton, Test Scores Put Ill. Consortium on the Map," Jan. 29, 1997.)

Last week, he highlighted his education proposals again in the first formal press conference of his second term. At the moment, few other issues have the same luster for Mr. Clinton. But as the reporters' interest in his campaign's finances proved, his agenda for America's schools is not what everyone else is eager to discuss.

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