WASHINGTON (AP) _ This fall, 53.2 million children will step into public and private school classrooms, setting a new enrollment record for the fourth straight year, the Education Department said Thursday.

And 14.9 million older students will set a second record _ for college enrollment.

The swell in the nation's schoolhouses, fueled by the baby boom ``echo'' and increased immigration, seems likely to lead to a showdown between President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress over education spending, especially on new teacher hires and school construction.

``In our lifetime we have never had a better chance to prepare American children in American schools for the next century,'' President Clinton said at Thursday's release of the annual back-to-school tally. ``Unfortunately the congressional majority wants to back off the commitment we made to hire new teachers and build new schools.''

The administration has pointed to the last few years of increased enrollments in promoting its plan to build new schools and reduce early-grade class sizes by hiring 100,000 new teachers.

``We need to think long-term, we need to get on with the business of building schools that can be centers of our communities,'' Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Republicans countered that their tax and education proposals also would address booming school enrollment, but leave the decisions to states and local school boards and not target specific school districts for aid.

``We believe that all students in all school districts _ not just the ones the president picks _ should have the same opportunities for new schools,'' said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax law.

This fall's kindergarten-through-12th grade enrollment will surpass last fall's by a half-million, according to the report, which surveys schools. Enrollment has been rising since 1985 and will continue to climb for seven more before hitting a plateau in 2006, the department said. Increases will start anew in the early grades because of rising birth rates, the officials added.

The school enrollments over the next decade are projected to increase by 2 percent, with the greatest increase occurring in high schools _ ninth through 12th grades _ which will see a 9 percent boost.

Some states will see more dramatic increases in student enrollments than others. For example, .

Nevada will get 50 percent more high school students over the next 10 years; followed by Arizona with a 35.1 percent increase in ninth-through-12th grade enrollment and North Carolina with a 21.5 percent increase.

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.

But unlike the decline after the first baby boom, when births dropped to 3.1 million in the early 1970s, births are not expected to fall this time around, but rather increase slowly for the next decade. The Census Bureau's long range predictions indicate 4.2 million live births for 2009 to 4.8 million in 2028.