Clinton Asks $10 Billion Boost for Education

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President Clinton proposed a $39.4 billion education budget last week that includes massive funding for Pell Grants and his proposed Hope Scholarship program along with hefty increases for other programs.

His proposal for fiscal 1998 spending by the Department of Education reflects a $10 billion jump from the 1997 appropriation, with familiar projects such as technology, charter schools, and Goals 2000 receiving big boosts.

Mainstays such as bilingual education, Title I, and special education also came out ahead, while the level of funding for school-to-work programs would be maintained at current levels.

Mr. Clinton also put forth a one-time, $5 billion investment for school construction that would help states and local districts pay the interest on construction bonds, particularly in urban areas.

Total funding for all education-related programs in the president's proposed budget, including Head Start and employment training, is $51 billion. The plan covers the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

"This budget supports the president's goals and gives the American people the tools they need to achieve them," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at a Feb. 6 news conference. "It includes historically high levels of investment in every area of education, from preschool to college."

The release of the plan came two days after Mr. Clinton's State of the Union Address, which showcased the president's agenda for education. ("Clinton Gives Top Billing to Education Plan," in This Week's News.)

Many of Mr. Clinton's proposals met with quick skepticism from Republicans.

Getting the federal government involved in school construction would only increase costs in an area that should remain a local responsibility, said Rep. Bill Goodling, a Pennsylvania Republican who is the chairman of the House committee that handles education issues.

Mr. Goodling said during a news conference that he also had serious concerns about a proposal that would give tax breaks for college tuition to students who maintained acceptable grades.

Mr. Riley tried to downplay the criticism, saying the important thing was getting Americans engaged in education.

"We will always have those debates and discussions," he said. "So far, the opposition has been very small in relation to the enormous support we've received."

High academic standards are the Education Department's first priority, Mr. Riley said, and the Goals 2000 program is "the cornerstone" that will help school officials set and raise standards.

Standards Top List

State grants under the controversial federal program would increase $129 million, to a total of $620 million, expanding the number of schools that receive assistance from 12,000 to 16,000.

Mr. Riley said the funds should not be looked upon as federal interference. "Our responsibility is to provide support for the state and local schools," he said.

The education budget also reflects Mr. Clinton's keen interest in education technology, calling for spending to nearly double to $500 million. Among other goals, Mr. Clinton wants to link every school to the Internet by 2000.

Charter school funding would also increase twofold, to more than $100 million, to support planning and start-up costs at up to 1,100 new schools.

Meanwhile, the president's budget would maintain funding for school-to-work programs at their current level of $400 million, with the Labor and Education departments chipping in $200 million each. Work-study programs for college students would receive a $27 million boost.

Higher Education

Mr. Clinton paid close attention to efforts to improve the quality of the nation's teacher workforce. The Eisenhower Professional Development State Grants, which support programs that boost teaching skills, would receive an additional $50 million, for a total of $360 million.

Under that program, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' budget would receive an additional $16 million, for a total federal contribution of $21 million, to speed efforts by the private organization to develop standards and assessments for teacher certifications in more than 30 specialties.

The Pell Grant program would receive an increase of $1.7 billion, or 29 percent, to $7.6 billion--a boost that would bring the largest jump in 20 years in the awards for low-income college students. The increases would raise the maximum grant amount from $2,700 to $3,000, while a change in rules would expand eligibility for the grants to an additional 348,000 students, most of them over age 24.

Mr. Clinton would spend a $4.5 billion chunk to create the Hope Scholarship program, a new program that would give federal income-tax credits and deductions to families and students for college tuition. The plan was inspired by a Georgia program of the same name. ("Georgian Plan Offers Key to Opening College Doors," in This Week's News.)

Students in the first year of college would receive a $1,500 tax credit, which would be renewable for a second year if they maintained a B average. Or, families could claim a $10,000 deduction per year, which could be used for every year of postsecondary study.

Amid criticism that the Hope scholarship favors middle-income students, Mr. Riley said the proposal was part of a drive to cut taxes for the middle class. He pointed out that families that earn more than $100,000 could not take advantage of the proposals.

Mr. Riley also said the program was not meant to discourage C students from going to college, but to provide an incentive for all students. "Kids who work hard and do their work generally can be B students in college," he said.

Mr. Goodling, however, said the B-average requirement is "really inviting dumb-downing to make sure the $1,500 is there."

Reading Challenge

The America Reads Challenge, a program to put reading tutors in elementary schools that was mentioned often by Mr. Clinton during his re-election campaign, would receive a total of $2.75 billion over the next five years. The president asked for $200 million in 1998 to begin enlistment and training for the volunteer army.

A second aspect, called Parents as First Teachers, would get $60 million in 1998 to support programs that help parents teach their children to read before they begin school.

The reading programs have already been met with criticism from some Republicans in Congress and some education group officials, who say they would duplicate existing programs that do not receive enough funds.

Special-Needs Boosts

Immigrant education programs would receive a 50 percent increase, to $150 million, to help school systems burdened by large numbers of recent immigrants. Bilingual education programs would also see a 27 percent boost, to $199 million.

The Title I remedial education program for disadvantaged children--the biggest federal K-12 program--stands to receive a sizable increase, up $347 million to a total of $7.5 billion. Schools with the highest concentrations of students from low-income families would also receive extra funds.

Special education, which received large increases last year, would get an additional $141 million, for a total of $3.2 billion. But Senate Republicans have proposed much larger increases in S 1, the bill that encompasses their education agenda.

Justice and HHS

Promoting children's health also topped the president's priority list. His proposed budget for the Department of Health and Human Services totals $376 billion, a 7 percent increase. The most dramatic new spending proposal, dubbed the Children's Health Initiative, would funnel $2.8 billion to children in low-income families who lack health insurance because their parents are temporarily unemployed.

The goal of the plan, which would rely heavily on private groups, employers, and health providers for assistance, is to bring health coverage to 5 million uninsured children by 2000.

The HHS budget would boost funding for the Head Start preschool program by more than $324 million, with a target of serving 1 million children by 2002. The department's budget includes $63 million in incentive grants intended to help states snuff out pro-drug messages targeted at young people and develop effective substance-abuse strategies.

The Health and Human Services budget also reflects the president's commitment to address the problem of teenage pregnancy by dedicating $64 million to state-run abstinence education efforts.

The Department of Justice budget released last week also had a decidedly youthful tone. Mr. Clinton asked for a 5 percent increase--or $19 billion--in the department's overall budget for 1998. More than $233 million of the increase would go toward strengthening state and local programs to crack down on juvenile gangs and youth violence.

Staff Writer

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