How Many Teachers, Mr. President?

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 16 1998 8:35 PM

How Many Teachers, Mr. President?

For Bill Clinton these days, political victories are as hard to come by as Yankee Stadium box seats for the World Series. (Yes, Chatterbox is going to the opening game). So not even Ken Starr could blame the beleaguered President for crowing Friday morning as he hailed the budget agreement in the White House Rose Garden. "We fought for and won vital new investments, especially for our children," Clinton said. "By hiring 100,000 new teachers, we will reduce class size in the early grades to an average of 18." Later in his statement, Battlin' Bill returned to the same magic number when he declared, "We fought and fought and fought and won the right for the 100,000 teachers."

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There's just one pesky problem--that number 100,000. As a Department of Education fact sheet accurately explains, "The FY1999 budget provides $1.2 billion to hire approximately 30,000 new teachers in the early grades." Even disregarding that hedge word "approximately," that works out to be exactly one new teacher for every two elementary schools in America. Put another way, Clinton's much-vaunted education plan will increase the rolls of the nation's public-school teachers by a dramatic 1.1 percent.

So how does our scrupulously accurate President get away with bragging about 100,000 teachers? You see Clinton has a dream, a will-o'-the-wisp fantasy of Congress someday funding those 100,000 new teachers. It's a seven-year plan that is supposed to reach its goal just about the time that President George W. Bush will be running for a second term.

Clinton perfected this big-number shuffle back in the days when he was burnishing his anti-crime credentials by pledging to put 100,000 federally-funded police officers on the streets. Remember all those placards proudly reading "100,000 Cops" at the1996 Democratic Convention? Well, Chatterbox, remembers. He checked with the Justice Department and discovered that--six long years into the Clinton presidency--Congress has approved funding for a total of 88,000 cops. And less than half of that number are currently walking a beat. As of March, only 43,305 men and woman in blue have ever been hired under Clinton's courageous 100,000-cops initiative. And that figure, by the way, includes several thousand would-be officers currently in training programs.

Now for the $100,000 question: Why is it, even now, that the supposedly cynical White House press corps continually lets Clinton get away with such blatant exaggerations about the mythical 100,000 cops and 100,000 teachers?

--Walter Shapiro

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