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With respect to his new dedication to educational funding, President Clinton seems to have found a truly beneficial use for his brand of Democratic conservatism, heretofore correctly seen as unambiguous capitulation to a Republican agenda. In his State of the Union message to Congress two weeks ago, the president promised--in somewhat overblown rhetoric--"a new kind of government--not to solve all of our problems for us, but to give all our people the tools to make the most of their own lives." We are thankful that in the president's budget proposal for fiscal year 1998, such sloganeering translates into dollars for schools, students and workers.
College students stand to benefit if this new direction in federal spending comes to be. Clinton has included in his budget a tax credit of up to $1,500 per year for two years of college education provided that students maintain a 'B' average (which is not such a difficult hurdle here, at least). In addition, Clinton has pledged to increase the funding of Pell grants, which provide assistance to needy students, so that each recipient gets $3,000, an increase of over $300 per student. Also, Clinton proposes to add $27 million per year for federal college work-study jobs, a substantial increase which will benefit working students.
The president's budget proposal also beefs up funding for secondary school education, but to limited effect. Though the overall budget for public schools will be increased by 11 percent to $29.1 billion, this money will still be distributed through rich and poor districts in a fairly even fashion. A bit of saving grace comes from a $400 million increase in the Title I appropriation which is used to aid poor children academically. But the administration's F.D.R.-like insistence on a computer in every classroom (and the $500 million next year so allotted) reduces the overall productive capital that might otherwise aid poor schools buy the very desks on which the hypothetical computer technology is supposed to sit. Likewise, the doubled funding of charter schools does little to help sustain ordinary students in the decaying public school system.
We are pleased to note that the Clinton budget does well by American laborer-citizens. One of the president's proposals is for a tax deduction of up to $10,000 for post-secondary school education and training. This tax break couldn't be more beneficial to average Americans who are competing in an increasingly global and skilled labor market. In the new economic order of the information age, it is human capital which is the primary value of the citizen, for it is that knowledge and skill base which is salable to employers. For Americans to be able to compete in the new economy, they will need the flexible training supplied by community colleges and private technical schools in order to maintain or increase their standards of living.
The 1998 federal budget proposal of the Clinton administration, then, is intended to equip the average American with the real opportunities for advancement that one ordinarily finds only in the national mythology. We salute the efforts of the president in increasing the funding for education priorities, but in the future we ask that his budget priorities do more to reflect a more realistic sense of educational justice, and include overcompensation to poor communities struggling to get by in education. For the great majority of Americans, though, and for college students in particular, this budget bodes well.
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