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Clinton Launches Sales Campaign For Service Plan

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WASHINGTON--President Clinton last week served up the most detail to date on his national-service proposal and embarked on a campaign to sell it to the nation, Congress, and especially America's young people.

In a speech at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., that was followed by a brief interview on MTV: Music Television, Mr. Clinton described a national legacy founded on the idea "that honoring service and rewarding responsibility is the best investment America can make.''

"National service will be America at its best--building community, offering opportunity, and rewarding responsibility,'' he said. "National service is a challenge for Americans from every background and walk of life, and it values something far more than money. National service is nothing less than the American way to change America.''

In outlining the parameters of the program, including its cost, number of participants, and eligibility standards, the President was filling in the blanks on a proposal that had already been widely discussed by Administration officials and the President himself. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

Mr. Clinton left out numerous specifics, however, that will only become clear once he sends legislation to Capitol Hill later this spring.

Perhaps the most significant new piece of information revealed by Mr. Clinton in his address was his intention to proceed this summer with a training program and service "summit.''

Mr. Clinton's $31 billion economic-stimulus proposal for fiscal 1993 includes $15 million for those activities.

Under the plan outlined by Mr. Clinton last week, the Commission on National and Community Service will select up to 10 sites with established service programs to conduct leadership training for 1,000 youths and college-age volunteers.

The volunteers will be chosen by the selected programs from applications, said Catherine Milton, the executive director of the commission. President Clinton in his speech also urged young people to send their applications directly to the White House.

After completing the training, participants will work to help at-risk youths in four areas: education, health, crime prevention, and the environment. They will receive placement assistance if they want to continue their service, and others will have the opportunity to apply for small grants, known as Service Entrepreneurial Awards for Change (SEA Change), if they have ideas to create service programs in their communities.

At the end of the summer, training participants, other service workers and administrators, members of Congress, and the President will participate in a service summit designed to stimulate interest in service and allow for the exchange of ideas.

"This is really the training of a leadership cadre that will help carry out national service over the next year,'' Ms. Milton said.

The President made his remarks on national service on the 32nd anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps--a symbolic gesture that paid tribute to one of Mr. Clinton's political heroes, President John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Clinton chose Rutgers because it is a state university with a diverse student body and a well-regarded service program.

Earlier that day, Mr. Clinton spent nearly an hour with students at the Adult Learning Center of the New Brunswick, N.J., school district, and then rode a bus to the university with the students.

The President was joined there by several members of Congress who have pushed national service in recent years and who are expected to lead the fight for the proposal once his legislation is issued later this spring.

Scaled-Back Plan

In addition to Mr. Clinton's public appearances on March 1, Vice President Gore and other Administration officials went on the road to support the plan.

The details on the national-service plan released by the President last week indicate that he has scaled back the program considerably--at least for now--from what he talked about during the campaign.

Mr. Clinton said last week that he will request a total of $7.4 billion for the program through fiscal 1997, including $389 million for 1994 and $3.4 billion for 1997.

That will pay for 25,000 participants in the first year, which may be as soon as the 1993-94 academic year if legislation is passed quickly, and 100,000 participants annually by 1997.

Compared with the nearly six million postsecondary students who receive student loans each year, the service program as proposed will be relatively small.

During the campaign, Mr. Clinton spoke of having enough service slots to make the option available to anyone who wanted to serve. On MTV, he said there should be enough slots for all willing participants.

If there is more interest, he said, "I'll go back to the Congress and ask for more money.''

Moreover, the President contends that the second part of his loan-reform package, an income-contingent loan option, will provide an incentive for students to take lower-paying jobs in the public interest once they leave college.

But Stacey Leyton, the president of the United States Student Association, said she sees a gap between the level of interest and the availability of service positions.

"I feel there will definitely be more than 100,000 that want to participate,'' Ms. Leyton said. "When we go out to campuses everyone's talking about it.''

Mandate for Change, a manifesto published last fall by the Progressive Policy Institute, a group with close ties to Mr. Clinton, included a proposal for a national-service program with 200,000 participants. In his MTV interview, Mr. Clinton said that possibly 500,000 people could serve within six or seven years.

He also said that about 35,000 of the service slots will be taken by high school graduates who will earn vouchers for college by performing service.

School Jobs Protected

The President said participants would work "in our schools as teachers or tutors in reading and mathematics,'' assist police officials in crime prevention, help clean up the environment and urban communities, and help senior citizens, the homeless, and at-risk youths.

Despite the inclusion of school jobs in the proposal, officials of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers said they were not worried that their members would be displaced as a result.

The teachers'-union leaders said they have received assurances from the Administration that teachers and other school workers will not be replaced.

"We have every reason to believe, and have been assured, because we've been working with [the Administration] on this, that their intent is not to replace school employees, not just teachers but all school employees,'' said Keith B. Geiger, the president of the N.E.A.

Still, Mr. Geiger added, "I think it's fair to say that someplace out there someone is going to try and misuse it, and we'll have to watch out for that.''

Mr. Geiger said national-service participants could serve as student supervisors during play or lunch periods, work in reading programs, and serve in summer school, thus freeing up teachers for other duties.

On MTV, Mr. Clinton said that cities would be required to prove that the placement of volunteers in schools or within police departments would not displace regular workers.

Structure, Funding Uncertain

Mr. Clinton also said he hopes to establish a decentralized administrative structure that would build on existing grassroots programs rather than create a new federal bureaucracy.

Although decisions have not been made on the administrative structure of the long-term service program, Ms. Milton said the commission is expected to "have input'' into the decision.

Other decisions that remain to be made include:
The exact amount of the stipend and tuition voucher or loan forgiveness provided to participants. Earlier estimates suggested a $10,000 stipend and $10,000 in tuition vouchers or loan remission for each year of service, but those amounts may be scaled back.

  • How participants will be chosen.
  • Whether compensation for participation will be considered income in determining financial need for other student-aid programs.
  • Whether funding for other aid programs will be affected.
  • How income-contingent loan repayment would work, and if it will eventually replace the existing fixed loan-repayment structure.

Ms. Leyton said her organization is pressing the Administration to make income-contingent repayment an option mostly for borrowers in default. Although many recent college graduates may find it easier to choose lower monthly payments in the short term under the proposed new repayment system, she said, they may find later that they are tied to paying more interest over a longer period than they would like.

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