Voters may lack enthusiasm for the 1996 election, pollsters and pundits say but a quick check of presidential and congressional races finds education advocates with plenty of reasons to watch–and worry–in the months ahead.
Not only is control of the White House at stake, but also control of Congress, where retirements already will change the makeup of committees that will reauthorize financial aid and other programs under the Higher Education Act (HEA) next year. The future of the Education Department (ED), student aid, and affirmative action also are on the front burner for those claiming victory on Nov. 5.
The election pits different education philosophies against each other, many analysts say. Republicans want more local control, fewer rules; and greater school choice. Democrats talk of more federal funds while still balancing the budget. The Presidential Race Sets the Tone The tone of the national campaign comes not from Congress, but from the top of the ticket. Both President Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole are talking about education, but they rarely agree on the details.
Clinton’s platform includes scholarships for high-achieving students, college tuition tax credits, and policies to make a community college education open to every American. Dole is focusing more on elementary and secondary education, taking aim at teachers unions as enemies of reform. He also talks about school choice and vouchers to help low-income children attend private schools.
The Republican platform calls for the elimination of ED, despite polls showing strong public support for the department. While Dole also favors termination, GOP lawmakers acknowledge they need a credible alternative–other than just elimination–if they want to win public support. They say that their problem with ED is merely one of accountability.
Although Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, stated that eliminating ED “remains a stated goal of our party,” Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) and others spoke of the need to devise an alternative to what they consider an overly bureaucratic department–something that shows they support ED’s goals, if not its bureaucracy.
“It is not good enough to simply throw r I money at programs with the word `education’ in them,” said Goodling who chairs the House Economic and Educational Opportunity Committee. “We must spend money wisely on the programs that support quality results.” But there is skepticism from the other side of the aisle.
“The Republican Congress has shown what it wants to do to the Education Department,” said Rep. Cleo Fields (D-La.), a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) member who helped establish Congress’s new Education Caucus this year, but is not running for reelection.
The long-debated voucher issue hits a surprisingly responsive chord among some more voters, including African Americans. About 48 percent of African Americans favor vouchers in a recent poll. That is higher than the 43-percent support among the general population, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a study group that focuses on issues affecting African Americans. But the voucher issue is not expected to fill voting booths with African Americans who support Dole. According to the center, 85 percent of Blacks say they favor Clinton in the election.
“There is no evidence of any movement toward the Republican Party among Black Americans, as some have suggested,” said David Bositis, the center’s senior researcher. While neither presidential candidate has talked much about Higher Education Act reauthorization, the issue most on the minds of the higher education community, Clinton has taken Dole to task for favoring budget cuts in many HEA programs–including student loans–as part of last year’s GOP balanced budget effort.
The lack of specifics on HEA, however, means the issue likely will not get high visibility until Congress launches hearings early next year. Congress and Congressional Black Caucus Possibilities HEA’s future–as well as African-American influence in Congress-are among the high l stakes on the table in the House and Senate races.
Most observers know about the required HEA reauthorization, which begins next year. But many are not aware of the potential gains for the Congressional Black Caucus if Democrats reclaim control of the House–which includes the possibility of four CBC members assuming leadership of key committees.
On the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.) would take the gavel just as Congress starts the HEA review process. Clay is highly critical of what he called “repeated attempts” by Republicans to slash education during the past two years.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Ga.) would take over the House Judiciary Committee from Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). The panel oversees affirmative action, civil rights and other justice programs. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) would take over the powerful Ways and Means Committee from Rep. Bill Archer (A-Texas). The committee played a huge role in crafting this year’s welfare reform law.
Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) would oversee the National Security Committee that monitors defense issues, replacing Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.). A shift of about 20 seats would give House control back to the Democrats, but many CBC members are in tough re-election campaigns after several courts threw out some Black-majority redistricting efforts following the 1990 census.
Changes Imminent on Education Committees The election also could mean major changes for the education committees in the House and Senate. The Senate’s Labor and Human Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over HEA, is losing its chair person, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), to retirement. (For an interview with Sen. Kassebaum, see page 13.) Many advocates viewed Kassebaum as a moderate bridge builder who reached out to conservatives and liberals, something that could prove elusive for her GOP successor. Best bets on her replacement are Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) or Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)–assuming the GOP retains control of the Senate.
Jeffords has seniority on the committee and currently heads the panel’s subcommittee on education. But the Vermont senator’s moderate-to-liberal views often are considered out of step with Republican leaders, who have bypassed him for other leadership posts. Coats is a more junior member but has solid, mainstream conservative credentials since replacing Dan Quayle in the Senate. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a well-known education advocate, likely would reclaim the chairmanship if Democrats won control of the Senate.
One notable retirement is that of Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), whose name is attached to the government’s main financial aid grant program. Pell first joined the Senate in 1960 and chaired Labor’s education subcommittee for many years.
In the other wing of Congress, Goodling or Clay would claim the top spot on the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, depending on which party controls the House. Recognized as a moderate earlier in his career, Goodling has moved to the right during the past two years in support of the House GOP’s Contract with America. Clay likely would push for more federal funding and involvement in education.
On HEA, however, most of the work will take place on the panel’s Post-Secondary Education, Training and Lifetime Learning Subcommittee. The current chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), is a conservative who is finishing his second term in Congress. A Democratic takeover could put the chairmanship up for grabs with the expected retirement of Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.), the subcommittee’s senior Democrat. Fourth-term Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ.) is among several candidates in such a scenario.
Different Hands Expected to Hold Purse Strings The Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that sets education spending, will get a new chairperson next year regardless of which party takes over Congress because the current chairman, Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), is retiring. Next in seniority is Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ala.), a conservative insider with a somewhat low profile. The senior Democrat on the panel is its former chairman, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a moderate, currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Should the chamber go Democratic, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a liberal who sought more education spending this year, likely would take control.
The current chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.), a forceful conservative who showed more flexibility this year. Senior Democratic Representative David Obey (D-Wis.), who comes from the liberal wing of the party, is in line for chairmanship should Republicans lose the House.
The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee likely would remain under the leadership of Rep. John Edward Porter (R-Ill.), a moderate conservative, if the GOP retains control. Obey or Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, could assume the chairman’s role under Democratic leadership.
Who’s Telling The Truth?
GOP Calls Democratic Ads “Misleading”
With the help of political advertisements, Democrats are accusing Republicans of voting to cut student loans and other college aid programs. Are these ads, which are part of the airwave saturation that normally accompanies an election season, truth or exaggeration? That question is front and certain in many congressional races and even in the presidential campaign this fall.
What the Democrats are usually referring to are recommended assumptions buried in the details of the House Republicans, balanced-budget plan. The document contained hundreds of assumption. None of them are binding, but they outline possible ways to cut federal spending.
Congress approved the budget plan but never got to perform the grunt work because of challenges from the White House. In the end — after protracted budget stalemates, two partial government shutdowns and an approaching election — education spending went up, not down. The increase for 1997 was $3.5 billion.
“It is a totally misleading scare tactic on the part of the Democrats and the AFL-CIO to imply that students might not be able to get a student loan under the Republican savings plan,” said Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), the GOP’s chief point man on education.
Not so, say Democrats, who argue the GOP is making a last-minute conversion to win votes. “The sudden concern on the part of my Republican colleagues for protecting education is gladly received,” said Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), the senior Democrat on the House education panel. But Democrats are correct to point out, he continued, the “repeated attempts by the [GOP] majority to slash funds for education.”
For the record, the Clinton White House favored a $230 increased in the maximum Pell Grant this year — a level Congress later approved after much discussion. Congress also agreed to White House recommendations to increase Perkins Loans, vocational education, Head Start, and Title 1 far above original congressional estimates. Congress also preserved tech-prep programs at community colleges and increased work/study funds, two provisions of the final 1997 budget agreement.
Whose argument will resonate the most? The voters will have their say next moth.p RELATED ARTICLE:
Major Federal Education Laws
Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965:
Created the Title 1 program to serve disadvantaged children and reauthorized in 1985 to include safe and drug free school funds. Last reauthorization: 1994.
Higher Education Act of 1965:
Authorizes Pell Grants, and all major student grant and loan programs, plus scholarship initiatives and Title III institutional aid to HBCUs and developing institutions. Last reauthorized: 1992. Head Start Act of 1965:
Created the Head Start preschool program now serving about 800,000 low-income preschool children. Last reauthorized: 1994, when law was expanded to serve infants and toddlers.
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