Talking It Over
December 6, 2000
This week, an important tradition is taking place on Capitol Hill -- the biannual orientation for newly-elected members of Congress. Unfortunately, our lawmakers are sharing the stage for a more somber undertaking -- a lame-duck session called to finish work on the federal budget. At midnight tonight, the 16th Continuing Resolution -- the temporary spending bill passed to keep the government functioning in the absence of a budget -- expires. After passing yet another CR, the members must turn immediately to the appropriations and other spending measures that remain, among them the important Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill.
Before Congress left in November, a spirit of bipartisan compromise led to an agreement between administration and Hill negotiators on several issues important to Americans and key to the well-being of our country's families and children. Unfortunately, Congress left town for the November election before the bill was passed. Now, for our children's sake, I hope that the constructive spirit that led to an agreement on this bill will reemerge, preparing us to enter the 107th Congress -- the first Congress of the 21st century -- energized, optimistic and committed to progress and bipartisanship.
Many of you have children who attend schools that are deteriorating seemingly before your eyes. Their roofs leak, heating systems don't work, and classrooms are plagued by broken windows and dangerous wiring. Unfortunately, among the agreements in danger of being lost if the Labor, HHS, and Education bill is not approved, is a landmark emergency repair fund established to help school districts fix these very problems. Another aspect of the bill would reduce the financial burden on local and state governments by having Washington shoulder a larger share of the cost of special education.
Initiatives that would put us on track to hire 100,000 new teachers, reduce class size, and fund important professional development opportunities are on the table again this week. Then there is the initiative I call "small, safe and successful high schools." For too long, as the population of school-aged children has ballooned, too many high schools have grown to resemble warehouses, handling, in some cases, many thousands of students. Such numbers make it virtually impossible to give individuals the attention and care they need and deserve. The appropriations bill that I hope will pass this week would support grants to schools that want to create smaller learning communities, such as schools-within-schools and career academies.
Before their break, legislators had also agreed to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides subsidies to working families burdened by the high costs of day care. And they agreed to help communities improve the quality of child care, foster cognitive development in young children, promote readiness for school, and train thousands of early childhood educators and caregivers to help improve children's language and literacy skills. The final compromise also supported the largest funding request ever for Head Start, keeping us on track to reach our goal of enrolling 1,000,000 children by the year 2002.
We cannot allow the education of our children to be derailed by politics. Especially as we move into the new century and adjust to the lightening-fast changes in technology that are taking place, it is our responsibility to make sure our children have the best schools and the best teachers we can provide.
State legislators should take heed, for if Congress fails to pass the bipartisan education plan, the financial impact on state and local governments will be severe. California, for instance, could lose almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. New York could find itself short more than $40 million for after-school and summer school programs alone. And Illinois could have to do without nearly $70 million in support for disabled students.
We are too close to having an excellent package to give up now. It's time to work together to bring this historic agreement to a close so that we can get on with other important pieces of the nation's business -- negotiating a fair and productive tax cut, enacting common-sense gun legislation, and passing the Patients' Bill of Rights, comprehensive campaign finance reform, hate crimes legislation, reauthorization of the National and Community Service Act and expansion of health coverage to vulnerable Americans.
As I reflect on the daylong series of meetings I attended at the Senate orientation today, I am more committed than ever to operate in the positive and productive atmosphere that prevailed before the election. And given the razor-thin margin of the presidential vote, I know that it will be more important than ever to reach out and work together for what's right and what's good.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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