Carlson confronts Clinton on school choice

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was one of Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson’s last chances to take on President Clinton, and Carlson used the opportunity to push his pet issue — public funding for private schools.
“I think it’s a sad commentary when the Washington establishment … sends its kids to private schools but at the same time tells parents of other children that they have no choice,” Carlson told Clinton at the governors’ annual White House meeting Monday.
Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, graduated from a private school in Washington last year.
Carlson, who is not seeking re-election this year, is attending his last winter conference of the National Governors Association.
Congressional Republicans brought Carlson to Washington last fall after he overcame opposition from Minnesota’s teachers unions to push a package of tax credits and deductions through the Democratic-controlled state legislature. The centerpiece of the plan is a $1,000 tax credit for low-income families.
In Monday’s meeting, Clinton touted a series of proposals he has made to improve public schools, including money for renovating schools, hire 100,000 new teachers and to reduce class size. “No one believes America has the best system of elementary and secondary education in the world,” Clinton said.
Carlson told reporters that Clinton’s proposals didn’t deal with what the governor sees as the real problem in public education, a lack of competition. “All this tinkering around the edges will produce little,” he said of Clinton’s plan.
Critics of Carlson’s school-choice ideas say they would hurt, not help, public schools by funneling money into private education.
Carlson also is using his trip to Washington to join his fellow governors in pressing for passage of a multi-year bill to fund highways and other transportation projects. Northern states could lose an entire construction season if Congress doesn’t pass a bill by May, he said.
“We’re really in a pickle,” Carlson said. “When I get back we’re going to put out the red flag and urge highway contractors to lobby Congress for passage of the bill,” he said.
Also Monday, Carlson predicted that Congress will enact a settlement with the tobacco industry despite a sharp disagreement in Congress over whether cigarette makers should be given some protection from future lawsuits.
Clinton “clearly wants a settlement. It appears that a … settlement will occur. It would be well for us as governors to pay attention to it,” Carlson said.
Governors are concerned about getting what they consider their fair share of the revenue from a sharp tax increase on tobacco.
As part of the final deal, the tobacco industry likely would get some form of limited immunity to lawsuits, Carlson said.
Minnesota’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry is under way in St. Paul, and Carlson has harshly criticized Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III for going to trial rather than joining the national settlement talks.