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Seasonal discord

If it's fall, it must be time for the annual war of words over the Department of Education funding bill.

This year, the fight is over policy instead of money. But President Clinton is counting on his veto threats to carry him to victory over congressional Republicans for a third consecutive year.

In 1995, Mr. Clinton headed off GOP plans to cut $3.5 billion from Education Department programs. Last year, with the 1996 elections looming, he won a $3.6 billion increase for federal school programs--more than he requested eight months earlier.

This fall, the president and his team are pleased about the numbers in House and Senate versions of a bill to pay for education programs for fiscal 1998, which starts Oct. 1 and underwrites programs for the 1998-99 school year. Both would set spending at about $32 billion, up from $29.4 billion this year.

But the administration doesn't like the policy the bills set. The House voted to halt work on Mr. Clinton's national testing program, and the Senate included an amendment that would merge most K-12 programs into a block grant.

In his Sept. 20 radio address, Mr. Clinton said he would veto a compromise bill that includes either of the provisions.

Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington state answered the president in the Republican response an hour later. "Those who oppose this measure argue that it's somehow dangerous to entrust parents and teachers with more control over our children's education," said Sen. Gorton, who sponsored the Senate block grant proposal.

Mr. Clinton's specific complaint against the block grant is that it would scrap $51 million in seed money for charter schools and merge it into the block grant.


Meanwhile, President Clinton won kudos for his past work from lobbyists for federal education funding.

The Committee for Education Funding awarded Mr. Clinton its highest honor at its annual banquet Sept. 22. The president earned the Terrel H. Bell award--named for President Reagan's first secretary of education who died last year--because he "vigorously defended education from budget cuts in 1995" and "set an historic education agenda for the nation" this year, the Washington-based coalition of 90 school groups said in making the award.

Mr. Clinton was attending to his foreign policy at the United Nations so he was unable to attend the CEF banquet.

--DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]

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