Emphasizing education for the second straight year, President Clinton will seek billions of dollars to hire tens of thousands of new teachers and build or repair schools, with a focus on poor and rural areas.
The teacher proposal would cost around $7 billion and the school construction proposal at least $5 billion, although the numbers aren’t firm. Clinton also will request at least $200 million to boost spending for bilingual education, education aid for migrant children and colleges with high enrollments of Hispanic students. The numbers for programs over the next five years come from congressional and administration sources.
Congressional Republicans, while recognizing the need for new teachers because of growing enrollments, are already concerned about the cost. An Education Department budget document obtained by The Associated Press shows nearly 30 programs that would get increases as part of the administration plan to raise academic achievement.
“This is quite a list,” said Jay Diskey, spokesman for the House Education and Workforce Committee. “How are they going to pay for it? And how are they going to fight for it? … You will see us join with him on some but also have a message of, ‘Where’s this money going to come from?”’
There are questions about the size of future budget surpluses and how much money, if any, might be available from a proposed settlement with the tobacco industry over smoking related health care costs.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats already started taking up the issue late last year with legislative proposals.
In a National Press Club speech last month, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., proposed recruiting 100,000 new teachers a year for 10 years. A bill offered last week by Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., calls for hiring 100,000 new teachers over five years. However, it would pay the $8 billion cost by taking money from Clinton’s prized Americorps, an education program known as Goals 2000 and the National Endowment for the Arts. Paxon’s bill also calls for denying teachers a chance at tenure, something teacher unions would oppose.
Trying to keep a 1996 campaign promise, the administration will propose to spend at least $5 billion on school repair and construction. A proposal last year to spend that much to stimulate $20 billion worth of construction over two years was shelved during balanced budget talks, angering many urban Democrats.
The administration has been debating how to use that money to help school districts. One possibility would be to defray the cost of borrowing money for construction projects. Another possibility, contained in legislation proposed by Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and Kennedy, would provide $1 billion a year in tax credits for companies doing the construction projects so they would charge the local school districts less for the work.
The Hispanic aid proposal is politically significant because Democrats and Republicans are courting Latinos in the 1998 congressional elections.
The budget document, though not giving dollar amounts, said increases would be sought for college student aid grants, direct aid to poor school districts, aid to help states reach standards, college work-study programs and school drug and crime prevention.
Among other proposals:
The administration wants support beyond the $40 million provided this year for after-school learning centers in rural and inner-city public schools. The so-called 21st Century Community Learning Centers provide tutoring and other help, as well as a safe place for children to be after school and before parents return home from work.
On another front, the administration plans to support the creation of even more charter schools, experimental public schools that operate independently of usual regulations. Bipartisan legislation provided $80 million this year for the schools, an increase from $51 million the previous year.
Republicans support charter schools, but have tried to link support for them with support for vouchers, subsidies for private and church-run schools.
The administration adamantly opposes vouchers.
Clinton already has said he wants to spend $350 million for scholarships and other aid to colleges for 35,000 new teachers willing to serve in poor urban and rural classrooms.
The president also has announced plans for “education opportunity zones.” Financial incentives would go to 15 to 25 poor school districts that adopt dramatic reforms such as closing bad schools and firing bad teachers.