Education Spending Bill Languishes

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The partisan battle over how to spend a record $40 billion education budget heated up Thursday with President Clinton making a trip to Capitol Hill to boost the Democratic plan and House Republicans portraying the administration as throwing money at unproven programs.

At a rally featuring schoolchildren from North Carolina, Republican leaders said the White House declined offers of $3 billion to $6 billion more for education in exchange for giving schools more leeway on spending.

Clinton and the Democrats have insisted that money be set aside to hire teachers and build schools. They met increased resistance Thursday.

``I don't know that we can resolve this issue in this Congress,'' said Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending. ``This might have to be sorted out by the American people.''

With vetoes and his party's popularity on the issue, Clinton has succeeded in recent years in forcing Republicans to compromise on new teachers and school construction. On Thursday, less than three weeks before national elections, he prepared to rally around Democrats who are faced with cutting a deal with Republicans who have won increasing public approval on the issue.

``It's a fight with no fighters,'' Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wednesday, complaining that Republicans are unwilling to discuss compromise.

John Czwartacki, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Clinton and Democrats have been unwilling to deal: ``We could have been out of here Oct. 1.''

In the meantime, black Democrats are accusing their own party leaders of not putting enough attention on improving education for the poor.

The education budget is part of three spending bills being negotiated by lawmakers and the White House for the budget year that began Oct. 1. Leaders planned a fourth temporary spending bill Thursday to keep agencies going.

Democrats are battling for specific money to hire new teachers and repair crumbling schools. Republicans still want to give states the option of spending the money on other programs such as special education and reading lessons.

Clinton and the Democrats could use a showdown to brand the GOP as the foe of popular priorities such as new teachers and after-school programs. Republicans could use a low-key compromise over a big public fight that reminds voters the GOP once advocated abolishing the Education Department.

``The Republican leadership is running out the clock,'' said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association teachers union.

Bickering over education is hardly new.

Last year's education budget passed only after a deal that allowed new money earmarked for teachers but gave states leeway to spend some money on other programs. A key federal education law, parts of which expired last year, has not been renewed.

The last major education bill Clinton signed, in 1999, expanded an experimental program that exempts states from some federal rules if the states show improved learning by children.

Congress will have to answer for the lack of progress, said Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which wants the debate focused on the poorest schools.

``We are trying to do a get-out-the-vote campaign, and we are empty-handed on education,'' he said. ``In the endgame, very unusual things happen. It's time for them to happen in our favor.''


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