DOVER, Del. -- At odds with congressional Republicans, who argue that the cure for ailing schools lies at the local level, President Clinton took his fight for education reform on the road yesterday.
Speaking to the Delaware legislature, he trumpeted a proposal to Congress to spend federal money to reduce class sizes in public elementary schools by hiring 100,000 new teachers.
He also unveiled two government reports: one showing that children perform better in smaller classes, and another showing that more than 6,000 children nationwide were expelled for taking guns to school during the 1996-1997 school year.
"That means we must continue to bear down on this policy of zero tolerance for guns in our schools," said Clinton, the only sitting president to address the General Assembly of Delaware in its 211-year history. "We want to make sure that our children are exposed to teachers and team leaders, not drug dealers and gang leaders."
Of the 4,125 expulsions that were reported by grade level, 56 percent were from high schools, 34 percent from junior high schools and 9 percent from elementary schools, the Department of Education study showed.
School violence has been an issue that has pulled at the emotions of many Americans over the past year, with shootings leaving several young children dead in Edinboro, Pa.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky.; and Pearl, Miss.
To cut discipline problems in schools, Clinton urged increased use of school uniforms, and said smaller classes would help teachers spot and control troublemakers.
Clinton's proposal to Congress -- in a bill introduced this week by Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri -- would spend $20.8 billion in federal money over 10 years to finance the hiring of 100,000 elementary school teachers.
This would reduce the average public school class size in the first, second and third grades from 22 pupils to 18.
The second report released yesterday by the Education Department suggests that classes with fewer than 20 pupils have higher-performing students and fewer discipline problems.
The money would go to school districts with the most crowded classrooms and the least financial resources. The districts would also have to meet other criteria to get the money, such as testing new teachers.
It would be distributed by the Department of Education, an agency particularly disliked by congressional Republicans.
The Republican-led Congress has repeatedly rebuffed the president's proposals, favoring GOP-sponsored legislation to grant $1.6 billion in tax breaks to families who set up special savings accounts to pay for their children's education.
Pub Date: 5/09/98