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Bush Touts Education as 'Key Reform' in Domestic Agenda

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One year after unveiling his America 2000 education strategy, President Bush used a Pennsylvania school as the backdrop for a speech that blasted the Congress for rejecting much of his plan, touted new student-aid and job-training proposals, and renewed his claim to the title of "Education President.''

Although Mr. Bush began by saying that his visit to Allentown's Dieruff High School was a "nonpolitical appearance,'' critics said the speech was clearly part of an effort to lay out a domestic agenda for his Presidential campaign.

"No, we can't legislate the American Dream,'' Mr. Bush said. "But government can serve as a catalyst for change.''

In calling educational improvement one of "five key reforms'' on his agenda, Mr. Bush noted that 43 states and more than 1,000 communities have signed on to America 2000.

Among others attending the meeting at the Johnson Foundation's Wingspread conference center were the presidents or directors of the Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National School Boards Association, and the National PTA.

'Historic' Role Cited

William Rioux, the executive director of the National Committee for Citizens in Education, called the meeting a "historic'' occasion.

"For me, when 23 organizations will fully and openly acknowledge the role of parents in the academic success of their children and in the success of schools over all, that's a benchmark,'' he said.

"Everywhere, people like you are working to break down the barriers between the classroom and the community--to spark a grassroots revolution to reinvent, not just rework, but to literally reinvent the American school,'' he said.

Critics were quick to note the political nature of the event.

"America 2000 looks more political than educational,'' Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "Any fair-minded person looking at it would conclude that the Administration has not developed a program likely to achieve the six national education goals.''

Spokesmen for the campaign of Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Mr. Bush's probable Democratic challenger, said the new legislation outlined by the President represents an effort to prevent Mr. Clinton from seizing education as a campaign issue.

They noted similarities to proposals the Governor has been touting for a national apprenticeship program, a massive adult-education initiative, and universal eligibility for student loans that would be repaid through community service or income-contingent payroll deductions.

President's Proposals

According to a description provided by the White House, Mr. Bush plans to propose legislation that would authorize a new income-contingent loan program and allow individuals attending school on less than a half-time basis to be eligible for Pell Grants and Stafford Student Loans.

Details were not available last week, but the White House description said the "lifelong learning act of 1992'' would create a $25,000 "line of credit through the Student Loan Marketing Association'' for any interested student, to be repaid with payments tied to fixed percentages of a borrower's income.

In his speech, Mr. Bush called the plan "a new approach to the old notions of student aid.''

Mr. Bush also offered additional details of a previously announced proposal to consolidate "inefficient'' vocational-training programs. "Job Training 2000'' would not eliminate programs or reduce costs, and would not make any changes in precollegiate vocational-education programs, according to the White House.

The Bush plan would call on local private-industry councils, which administer local programs under the Job Training Partnership Act, to create employment and counseling centers and develop performance-based certification for training programs.

Under the plan, more than $2 billion in J.T.P.A. funds and postsecondary vocational-education funds would be converted from grants to local trainers and schools into vouchers that eligible participants could use at any certified training agency.

The plan also would encourage school-to-work efforts through youth-apprenticeship programs and a voluntary system of occupational standards and skill certificates.

Legislation to implement the loan and job-training proposals is expected to be introduced shortly after the Congress returns from its Easter recess next week.

Observers noted that the Administration did not raise either proposal during lengthy debate on pending bills to reauthorize the Higher Education Act and the J.T.P.A. The House and Senate have each passed bills on both subjects, which are headed for House-Senate conference committees as early as this month.

"I'd say it has an election-year ring to it,'' said Tom Wolanin, the staff director of the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education.

Mr. Wolanin also said the student-aid plan appears to be "redundant,'' since the House H.E.A. bill would make all students eligible for some form of guaranteed loans and make less-than-half-time students eligible for Pell Grants.

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