|BALANCING THE SCHOOL BOOKS|
November 29, 1999
KWAME HOLMAN: As he signed the $390 billion omnibus budget bill into law at a Rose Garden ceremony today, President Clinton singled out one of his prized initiatives, agreed to after weeks of negotiations with congressional Republicans.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We value education, and this budget truly puts education first -- continuing our commitment to hire 100,000 highly qualified teachers to lower class size in the early grades which common sense and research both tells us leads to improved learning.
|Victories on both sides|
KWAME HOLMAN: The $38 billion approved for education is an increase of nearly $3 billion from the year before. The President stressed that increase went to fund many of the initiatives he personally lobbied for.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Under this budget for the first time, we will help states and school districts turn around or shut down their worst performing schools, schools that year after year fail to give our most disadvantaged students the learning they need to escape poverty and reach their full potential. And the budget provides further help for students to reach higher standards by doubling funds for after-school and summer school programs, which will enable us to reach hundreds of thousands of more students, and by increasing support for mentoring programs, including the gear-up program to help students go on to college.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressional Republicans also claimed victories on education, with provisions to give local school districts more flexibility in spending federal dollars; increase funding for teacher training; and to repeal President Clinton's Goals 2000 Program, which Republicans claimed was ineffective in improving student performance.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, Chairman, Budget Committee: We accomplished everything we wanted in this budget. First, we said we're going to increase education, and we did. The President got what he wanted -- targeted teachers -- we got some flexibility for 20 percent of that money. That's a good start, and that's going to be the philosophical battle this coming year: How much flexibility can be built into the education funding?
KWAME HOLMAN: Money for education was one of a handful of issues that delayed a final budget agreement for several weeks.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We had a lot of late-night, long phone calls which led to it. I thank the leaders of the relevant committees and subcommittees for their special efforts in this regard.
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, when compared to local and state expenditures, federal dollars make up a small amount of the money spent on public education every year-- about 6 percent.
|A lack of flexibility?|
JIM LEHRER: And now some additional perspectives on the education component in the federal budget. It comes from two longtime education activists. Chester Finn, formerly with the Reagan administration, is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And Richard Rothstein - he is a professor of public policy at Occidental University, and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute. Mr. Finn as a practical matter what effect will this legislation signed today have on the public schools?
CHESTER FINN, Manhattan Institute: Well, it's not really a very big amount from the standpoint of the public schools. It work out to about $400 per kid in American K-12 Education -- about 6, 7 percent of the total budget. It is about the same amount as last year. Meanwhile, state and local spending rises faster than the federal spending rises. The main effect it's going to have, I'm afraid, for public school systems overall is it's going to keep their hands tied in terms of federal rules and regulations that come with this very small amount of money.
JIM LEHRER: So the flexibility that Senator Domenici was just talking about, you don't think is real flexibility?
CHESTER FINN: The Senator overstated - I'm afraid -- how much flexibility actually resulted from this deal. The President got about 95 percent of what he wanted, and I think the Republicans got about 20 percent of what they wanted. The flexibility a little bit with some of the money, but the basic framework remains the same. The basic rules remain the same. The program structures are unchanged. This is a stand pat kind of appropriation.
JIM LEHRER: Stand pat kind of appropriation, Mr. Richard Rothstein?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN, Economic Policy Institute: Well, I don't think so. I think this appropriation reflects what is clearly a national consensus, that we need to try to do more to bring up the bottom in terms of student achievement in this country. Over the last generation, we've narrowed the gap between, for example, black student achievement and white student achievement by cutting it about in half. And this bill gives us the tools to try to address that further. President Clinton has focused on trying to hire more teachers in high poverty schools and reduce class sizes. There is good reason to believe that is one of the things that will make a big difference if we can get qualified teachers. I think that Mr. Finn and Senator Domenici actually understate the flexibility in this bill. In the first year of President Clinton's plan, last year, the Department of Education granted waivers to any number of states to apply the money in more creative ways than the bill originally foresaw and the same thing is going to happen with this bill so that while the bill itself increases required flexibility a little bit, the Department of Education clearly is going to grant waivers for a lot more flexibility where states and districts show that they can use money in ways to further the underlying purposes of the bill.
|Power at the federal level|
JIM LEHRER: Let's go back to the overview on this, Mr. Finn. There is tremendous national debate among federal politicians -- people who run for President, people who run for Congress -- about the need to improve education.
CHESTER FINN: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Put, give some perspective on what the power is at the federal level to actually improve education in America.
CHESTER FINN: These monies flow through hundreds of separate programs -- some of them very tiny, a few million dollars here and there for the whole country -- a few of them big, eight billion dollars for disadvantaged kids and six billion dollars for handicapped kids, for example, mostly lots of small programs. The leverage is not very much there with money. The leverage tends to come if you can persuade a state or district or school to do something it wouldn't otherwise do, and for that, use a combination of carrots and sticks. The money is, of course, the carrot. The regulations are, of course, the stick. This has been the pattern since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. The basics presumes is -- and it's very presumptuous in my view -- is that Washington knows best and states and localities must seek permission, must seek waivers, must seek exceptions from the federal regulations to do it the way they think best. Meanwhile, there is a revolution going on in education reform in America bubbling up from states and communities that have radically different approaches to doing things -- that are seeking to empower parents, students, individual schools. They don't need permission from Washington, except with respect to this little federal bit of their budgets.
JIM LEHRER: So, what should the federal government do, butt out?
CHESTER FINN: It should trust states and communities to make their own priorities rather than try to superimpose its own. And it should trust parents to get their kids a good education with the help of the federal dollars especially for disadvantaged kids. The federal government should stop trying to tell states and districts how to educate their kids.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rothstein, how do you feel about that?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: Well, I think that, in general, he's right, but the federal government is not telling states and districts very much how to educate their kids. As I indicated a minute ago, there is enormous flexibility in these proposals. The trend over the last decade under the Clinton administration and before has been to add more flexibility all the time. For example, in Title I, we now have predominance of whole school programs that is compensatory education for disadvantaged kids where the money no longer has to be assigned to particular children but could be used for whole school programs that benefit the education of children in disadvantaged communities. In the last years, I indicated a minute ago, the Department of Education has given waivers pretty much any time a state can show that the specific requirements of a bill are more difficult to implement than some other idea that the state had that might work better for the same purpose. So I think it's a little bit of a straw man to talk about the tight federal control. There is some federal control but it's loosening and the states are getting more flexibility all the time provided they use it for the basic underlying purposes of the bill.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say, Mr. Rothstein, how would you characterize the power of the federal government to affect public education in America -- with its 6 percent of the money it puts up?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: I think it's largely symbolic. Obviously 6 percent is marginal money and marginal money has a lot more power than the underlying, ongoing money has. So it is substantial even if it is only 6 or 7 percent, but a lot of it is symbolic. What this bill does is it states a national purpose to try to bring up the bottom in student achievement. Many states will be adding their own money to this kind of program. For example, Title I, the compensatory education program is now supplemented by state compensatory education programs around the country. Those state programs probably would not exist had not the first Title I program been adopted in the in the mid 1960's at the federal level. So, it is a symbolic program, but it also prods states to move in the right direction.
|Regulation vs. control|
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Finn, specifically the bill today authorizes or says there are going to be 100,000 new teachers. Is that the kind of thing the federal government should do, is say, okay, we're going to give money for 100,000 new teachers, or should it be more generally and let the school districts decide whether they want more teachers or they want more this or that?
CHESTER FINN: Some want more teachers, some want better teachers, some might want fewer teachers and more computers. This is exactly the sort of decision you don't make in Washington for a country with 16,000 school districts. It's exactly the kind of thing you can, you let them decide for themselves. There is a whole alternative idea out there which some people in Congress have been at least flirting with. The House passed a version of it a few months ago, which is Washington should insist on academic achievement gains by states and communities that should be completely laid back.
JIM LEHRER: Don't tell them how to get there. Tell them where to go?
CHESTER FINN: Yes, exactly.
JIM LEHRER: But isn't there even some objection to that?
CHESTER FINN: There is plenty of objection from people that would rather regulate and control.
JIM LEHRER: What I mean is setting a federal standard for a local school district.
CHESTER FINN: Yes, you can find people that don't even want to prescribe results. I'm not there. I think that it's, in return for $39 billion it's reasonable to demand results, but I think we have got to free up the people to produce the results the way they think best in their own communities. I mean, the very notion that you have to ask for a waiver from Washington assumes that the rules are made in Washington. This is just backwards.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the 100,000 teacher idea, Mr. Rothstein, does that bother you the way it does Mr. Finn?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: Not at all, because I think that it targets the right idea even if it's not practical to implement it everywhere. I think we know that what disadvantaged kids need is smaller classes, more individual attention and more qualified teachers. Now in some states, there aren't enough available teachers to hire so you can't add enough teachers to reach those goals but in those states the federal government has shown that it's willing and anxious to give waivers to those states in order to achieve the goal in a different way. For example, last year Indiana received a waiver. California received a waiver. California already had reduced class size to 20. It couldn't go down to 18 that the bill required to the federal government gave them money with a waiver and enabled them to use the money to train the teachers they already had, rather than to hire new ones.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what about Mr. Finn's point that the states shouldn't have to ask permission of Washington to do those kinds of things?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: Well, this is federal money. It's only six or 7 percent as you said. The states don't have to ask permission to spend the other 94 percent of their money, but if they want the federal money that is designed to bring up the achievement of disadvantaged kids by targeting smaller class sizes and more qualified teachers, if they want that money, they should fulfill the purposes for which the money is granted. I don't think that is an unreasonable proposal.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Finn?
CHESTER FINN: It is just crazy. If you ask the serious reformers in the states, they say that that 6 or 7 percent of the money occupies 50 percent of their administrative time and attention -- enormous numbers of hoops and hurdles that they are expected to jump through and jump over. It gets in their way. It ties their hands. It makes it impossible for them to achieve their own goals.
JIM LEHRER: As a general thing, final word from each of you beginning with you Mr. Rothstein, if improving education in America is a good thing, what the President signed today, does it take a step toward doing that?
RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: I think it takes a step, it takes both a symbolic step and a real step by targeting the money towards the disadvantaged kids who need it the most.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Finn?
CHESTER FINN: Jim, it's a step back to 1965. It's failed programs -- refunded for another year at about the same level with a little bit extra money for some of the President's pet schemes.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.