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Clinton Calls for Rewards for Community Service

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Washington

Continuing a string of youth-related policy announcements, President Clinton has outlined a plan to reward students and schools that demonstrate a substantial commitment to community service.

Mr. Clinton proposed an awards program recognizing high schools that integrate service into their educational programs. He unveiled the idea at a May 10 commencement speech at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa.

In addition to recognizing these "national-service leader schools," the president challenged school districts and civic organizations to raise money to reward individual high school students who have excelled in service to their communities.

If districts and community groups offered scholarships to these "national-service scholars," Mr. Clinton said, the federal government would match the gift with up to $500 per pupil.

The president estimated that the program would cost the federal government $10 million if every high school in the country participated.

"It would be the best $10 million we ever spent," Mr. Clinton said during the speech, in which he highlighted his priorities for the second term he hopes to win in November.

"We would get hundreds of millions of dollars of improved quality of life and service to people as a result," he argued.

Mr. Clinton also announced a plan to prod colleges to place more work-study students in community-service jobs. Community service has been shown to have significant educational benefits, he said.

A rand Corp. study released last week found that college students who were engaged in community service studied longer hours and improved academically.

Political Grandstanding?

Currently, about one-quarter of the country's 130 largest school districts mandate service as a graduation requirement, according to experts.

Maryland is the only state that requires students to perform community service to earn their diplomas, but similar legislation is pending in Massachusetts and Missouri.

The $10 million that Mr. Clinton said the federal project would cost is included in his fiscal 1997 budget request for the Corporation for National Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other community-service programs.

The corporation is working out the details of the proposed program, such as which students and schools would be eligible for awards, when and how they would apply, and how the money would be granted.

Corporation officials said last week that they were considering asking state departments of education to help identify exceptional candidates.

But some Republicans in Congress are already arguing that the plan would be a dubious investment.

Many of them have also opposed AmeriCorps, a signature Clinton administration program that grants college scholarships in exchange for community-service work. Critics say it is too costly, overly political, and misguided in offering financial benefits for what should be unpaid volunteer work.

The budget resolution approved by the House last week calls for eliminating funding for the AmeriCorps program.

"The idea of the federal government encouraging volunteerism is totally backwards," said Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., a member of the House committee that will oversee the upcoming reauthorization of AmeriCorps.

"You don't instill the volunteer spirit by giving someone a check,." he said.

He added that the sketchy nature of the president's plan shows that the proposal is little more than election-year grandstanding.

"Without a formal proposal, it's just a political thing," Mr. Brandt said.

Key Supporter

But at a news conference here last week, Harris Wofford, the former U.S. senator who is the chief executive officer of the service corporation, said the awards would complement the president's ongoing agenda of supporting local acts of good citizenship.

"Individuals in every community who want to do this will be encouraged by the federal match and it would become contagious," Mr. Wofford said.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a former AmeriCorps critic who recently reached an agreement with Mr. Wofford to support the corporation's programs in exchange for changes in their operations, said last week that he would also support the president's new awards proposal.

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