The president coordinated his attack with the release of a new Education Department report. CBS News Senior White House Correspondent John Roberts reports the study shows that for the fourth year in a row, a record 53.2 million students will be enrolled in school this fall.
"The challenges are going to increase as enrollment rises and the projected two million of our teachers retire in the next few years," Mr. Clinton said.
The student growth is tied to increased immigration and a 1980s rise in births, much like the baby boom post-World War II population explosion. Spending for school construction and repair reached a record $17 billion last year.
In Los Angeles -- where the effects of increasing enrolment have already gone from challenge to crisis -- Manual Arts High is becoming the norm. Built for 2,000 students, the population is now double that; within six years, it will need space for 2,000 more. According to school representative Deborah Wiltz, "Rooms are always, always, always an issue. And it's a fundamental issue because how can you teach 'em if you don't have any place for them to be. We've even had classes [outside]."
Mr. Clinton has earmarked money from the projected budget surplus to build new schools, fix aging ones and hire more teachers. But conservatives say the federal government should stay out of the construction business.
"I think the goal ought to be boosting academic achievement, not focusing on things like class size reduction, hiring more teachers, building more schools," says Nina Rees, of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.
While Republicans say their tax cut bill leaves money for education in the hands of states and parents, the president argues that any way you do the math, that plan doesn't add up. And though he still vows to veto the bill, on Thursday he sounded an optimistic note that a compromise can be worked out when Congress returns. He said once Congress returns after the August recess, both sides will try to -- in his words -- "get an 'A' in arithmetic and do the right thing.''