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Education Reporter

NEA Convention Turns into Rally for Clinton
It's hard to see how the Democratic National Convention in August could be any more exciting for Bill Clinton than the annual convention of the National Education Association held over the Fourth of July weekend. The NEA Convention had three times as many delegates as the Democratic Convention will have, and 91% of the NEA delegates voted to endorse Clinton for reelection as President. That's a higher approval rating than he enjoys in the Democratic Party.

The NEA convention had all the accouterments of a rip-roaring political convention, including Clinton-Gore buttons, signs and T-shirts and strobe lights criss-crossing the hall. When Clinton entered to make his speech, the crowd cheered and carried on like a political rally, the band blared out rock and roll, and the Arkansas delegates pretended to play huge make-believe saxophones.

Clinton used his platform to boast of his educational record, which includes dramatically expanding Head Start, passing Goals 2000 and School-to-Work, and pouring more tax funds into Chapter One, all of which have enlarged government. Met by enthusiastic applause, the President called on the delegates to support a minimum wage hike, pass the Kennedy-Kassebaum health care bill, and back Family Leave II.

In accepting the NEA's Friend of Education Award, Clinton presented his ideas to achieve successful education reform: Internet access for every classroom, tax credits for two years' attendance at community college, job training (i.e., the CAREERS bill), school uniforms, and community curfews. Saving his best for last, he announced a $10 million grant program to combat truancy in local communities. Stating that the "street is not an acceptable alternative to the classroom," Clinton promoted a plan to fine parents for not coming to parent-teacher conferences or for permitting their children to skip class frequently. Good government, he said, should help families of truants "determine what [they're] going to do" through "intensive counseling" from the government.

The National Taxpayers Union found that, if all the programs on the NEA's 1994 wish list were enacted, it would cost taxpayers an extra $702 billion a year. The average American family of four would pay an additional $10,544 a year in higher taxes. The NEA proposals would increase the size of government nearly 40%.

Outgoing president Keith Geiger proudly described the NEA as "feisty, rambunctious, activist, democratic." He boasted that, since the 1950s, the NEA has been "in the vanguard of...remarkable changes" in which schools have at long last cast aside "primitive" textbooks and "drill and dry lectures." "And we," Geiger proclaimed, "dragged public education - sometimes kicking and screaming - into the 20th century." Yet despite winning "powerful allies in the political arena," he bemoaned that the "media are filled with Chicken Little hysterics about public education."

When Geiger suggested getting rid of incompetent teachers, he got a cool response from the delegates. Firing a teacher in New York now costs an average of $194,520 per case and takes nearly a year. Some cases have cost $900,000.

The convention elected Vice President Robert E. Chase as the new president to succeed Geiger.

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