Needed Investments

True, last year's balanced budget agreement puts tight constraints on discretionary spending by the federal government. And, true, tough choices have to be made in the appropriations measures wending their way through Congress. Not every well-intentioned piece of social spending can be included.

In addition to these factors, there's the added challenge of trying to focus on any other business amid the scandal and investigation enveloping Washington.

Still, that challenge has to be shouldered. And a good place to start is the Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill. We agree with President Clinton that Republican-set spending levels should be reconsidered when Congress returns in September.

Specifically, money should be provided for some programs that address, even modestly, a core problem: substandard education for disadvantaged, typically inner-city youth.

That problem touches on race relations, crime, out-of-wedlock births, and any number of other social issues. Fuller funding for Head Start pre-school programs, a requested $260 million for the administration's America Reads tutoring project, $140 million for its High Hopes mentoring program for at-risk middle-school students, another $400 million so that the Title 1 program to strengthen basic academic skills can reach another 500,000 disadvantaged children - these make a start, at least, toward tackling the problem. And none are included in the bill being advanced by the GOP leadership in the House.

Head Start, which has long been recognized as an effective way of preparing children for school work, faces political as well as funding challenges. Some Republicans are determined to hold the program hostage to such proposals as excluding children whose mothers don't help locate fathers who owe child support.

The amounts of money are large enough to have an impact, but certainly not major by federal budgeting standards. A way should be found to make them available. The president is right: These are investments the country urgently needs to make.

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