How About the State of Education?

February 06, 1994

Health, education and welfare: the least of these, judging from President Clinton's State of the Union address, is education. The president devoted hundreds of words to his health-care plan and to the welfare reform plan he'll submit to Congress this spring, but education got only passing mention.

Congress faces two major tasks in education this year. One, mentioned briefly by Mr. Clinton, is enacting the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act," a plan to establish voluntary national school standards. The $420 million effort is a holdover from the Bush administration, but before the House passed the bill last fall, 307-118, several concessions had to be made to Republicans worried about federal intrusion in local affairs. In his address, the president said, "Goals 2000 links world-class standards to grass-roots reform." But as long as meeting those standards is voluntary, the program will be more symbolic than substantive.

The president didn't mention the other major task, one of crucial importance to Baltimore: reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its $6 billion Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged students in high-poverty schools. Just last month, the Commission on Chapter 1 in conjunction with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights reported that hundreds of the poorest schools in the nation receive no money from Chapter 1 and that, conversely, many schools with low poverty rates are designated as Chapter 1 schools.

The administration wants to redistribute Chapter 1 funds to concentrate on the poorest districts, but that creates a familiar political problem on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress from wealthy districts aren't happy about the Clinton plan to gradually reduce their Chapter 1 allocations, and almost all have at least one eligible school.

In an election year, the wave of crime in America's cities has made crime-fighters of members of Congress anxious to gain re-election. A few wise heads see the relationship between education and crime, between education and welfare, between education and health. The president might have said as much in addressing Congress.

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