Education Ideas Resurface as Part of 'Urban Relief' Plans
WASHINGTON--President Bush and Congressional leaders pledged last week to work together on legislation to rebuild riot-torn Los Angeles and respond in broader terms to the problems of the nation's cities.
But both sides also continued jockeying for political position, tacking an "urban relief'' label on old proposals--many of them education-related--in an effort to show action and in the hope that new attention to the needs of cities could provide enough momentum to advance stalled initiatives.
In immediate terms, Mr. Bush agreed to designate funding for disaster relief and small-business loans as emergency spending, thus exempting it from budgetary rules requiring new spending to be offset with cuts or tax increases.
The Congress is expected this week to give final approval to an emergency-relief bill, which the House passed late last week.
On a smaller scale, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander announced that he has extended the deadline for applying for 1991-92 Pell Grants from May 1 to June 1 for students in the Los Angeles area.
Mr. Bush also asked for long-term action on what he called his "initiatives for aiding and strengthening inner cities.'' One of those is the Administration's America 2000 education strategy, which has been largely rejected by the Congress.
Mr. Bush has stressed the choice component of the plan in the past week, arguing that enabling parents to send children to the public or private school of their choice would help inner-city children now trapped in substandard schools.
"I know some will say, 'You've proposed all this before,' '' Mr. Bush told an audience of inner-city youth before leaving Los Angeles May 8. "I am proposing them again because really, we must try something new.''
Mr. Bush outlined his agenda in a meeting with Congressional leaders last week, and in a news conference.
Besides enterprise zones and America 2000, Mr. Bush also highlighted "weed and seed,'' a proposed $500-million program designed to "weed'' low-income neighborhoods of criminals, through increased law-enforcement efforts, and "seed'' those areas with social programs.
The Education Department's budget includes $56 million for this interagency effort, for unspecified initiatives to "improve education and family literacy and combat drug use.''
President Bush's urban package also includes expansion of a program that helps public-housing residents buy their homes and several welfare reforms to allow recipients to accumulate some assets.
The President called on lawmakers to approve his "job training 2000'' proposal for coordinating federal training programs.
Mr. Bush also urged action on a new youth-apprenticeship bill, which he sent to Capitol Hill last week.
Under the proposed apprenticeship program, 11th and 12th graders would receive academic instruction, job training, and work experience. Prior to entering the program, students would receive career and academic guidance to prepare them for their apprenticeship.
Students would be eligible to continue training during two years of postsecondary education. In addition to earning a high-school diploma, Mr. Bush said, a student who completed the program would receive a "certification of competency.''
"I believe the time has come for a national, comprehensive approach to work-based learning,'' the President said. "The bill I am proposing would establish a formal process in which business, labor, and education would form partnerships to motivate the nation's young people to stay in school and become productive citizens.''
The President's message did not specify how large the apprenticeship program would be or how much funding would be needed.
Congressional leaders promised at last week's meeting to work toward a bipartisan accord. In an open letter to the President, the House and Senate majority leaders and the Speaker of the House said: "Americans need to know that their President and Congress, whatever their differences, can work together to meet urgent national needs.''
But they also laid out a Democratic agenda that differs significantly from Mr. Bush's. Their proposals include several ideas the President opposes, such as permanent changes in unemployment-benefits law and increased public-works spending.
The Democratic leaders also emphasized a pending crime bill, which has been stalled by disputes with Republicans over gun control and limits on legal appeals by death-row prisoners. The crime bill includes a "safe schools'' title, which would authorize competitive grants to fund crime-prevention and counseling programs in schools.
Congressional leaders also met with big-city mayors last week to discuss the possibility of crafting broader urban-aid legislation.
Such a bill could conceivably include extant Democratic proposals that would aid city schools, such as legislation for renovating schools and other buildings, or the "urban schools of America act,'' which would authorize an array of programs.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed increased funding for summer education and job training.
At a May 4 field hearing in New York City, Mayor David Dinkins and Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez endorsed a bill to provide federal funding for school-safety efforts.
But even proponents acknowledge that it will be difficult to win bipartisan support for sweeping proposals in the current fiscal crunch.
At his meeting with lawmakers, Mr. Bush said he would oppose a tax increase to pay for urban relief.