WASHINGTON – Democrats from Baltimore and its suburbs applauded the president’s focus on education in his State of the Union address.
“My No. 1 priority for the next four years is to ensure that Americans have the best education in the world,” Clinton said Tuesday night. Congress responded with a standing ovation.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said he particularly liked Clinton’s proposal to increase Pell Grants to lower-income college students, and to give parents a choice in which public school to send their children to.
Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, said he particularly supported tax credits for families with children in college. Clinton said he wants to start a HOPE scholarship, which would give up to a $3,000 in tax credits for tuition, spread over two years.
However, Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, said he was concerned that the president’s proposals would require a larger role for the federal government in education.
“I love school uniforms,” Ehrlich said, referring to Clinton’s proposal to support communities that introduce school uniforms, “but it should never be a federal issue.”
Ehrlich questioned where the money for Clinton’s education proposals would come from. Included in Clinton’s plan is $5 billion in federal funds to help communities pay for school construction during the next four years.
Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, whose 6th District spans from Western Maryland to Howard County, expressed similar concerns.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how you get a balanced budget when you’re spending more money,” he said.
Bartlett called the president’s focus on education “appropriate,” but said Clinton envisioned “a larger role for the [federal] government than I feel is necessary.”
However, Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a member of the Senate Budget Committee which sets spending goals for Congress, said the president made room within his balanced budget plan for all his education initiatives.
“They don’t involve a lot of money; they involve a lot of will,” said Sarbanes, of Baltimore.
Clinton’s education proposals include: adopting national education standards that would be used to test students in the fourth and eighth grades; increased parental involvement in pre- school learning, and giving parents a choice of public schools.
The right to choose “will foster the competition and innovation that can make our public schools better,” Clinton said.
He also proposed creating more charter schools – 3,000 by the year 2000, nearly seven times more than there are today. The schools are funded by taxpayers but independently managed as an alternative to regular public schooling.
Cummings said he favors most of the president’s education proposals, but is adamantly opposed to charter schools because he thinks they may “erode the public [school] system.”
The president also proposed additional funds for school construction and a G.I. Bill for workers, which would provide funds for up to two years of school for people who have lost their jobs or work for low wages.
And he proposed adopting national education standards by 1999, to test every 4th grader in reading and every 8th grader in math.
Maryland’s testing already exceeds that. Since 1991, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has required all fourth, sixth and eighth graders to take a battery of tests each spring.
Cummings said the president’s proposals are a big step. But, he said, “Whether they go far enough is yet to be determined.” Capital News Service reporters Michael Eacobacci III, Mike Householder, Karen Masterson, Kerana Todorov and Brian Love contributed to this report. -30-