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Clinton Seeks Colleges' Help In Finding Tutors for Reading

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Washington

President Clinton is offering colleges a financial incentive to enlist students in his 1 million-person army to help young children learn to read.

The Department of Education announced late last month it will waive a requirement in the federal Work-Study program that would require schools to pay a portion of the wages of students working as a reading tutors for young children. Under the plan, schools could save the 25 percent of a student's wages they would otherwise need to pay to qualify for federal reimbursement.

The new rule, effective in the 1997-98 academic year, is the first step toward placing 100,000 Work-Study students in classrooms throughout the country--a goal Mr. Clinton repeated in stump speeches during his re-election campaign.

The waiver is only one prong of the proposed $2.75 billion "America Reads" program. ("Clinton Proposal Puts Attention on Early Reading Instruction," Sept. 11, 1996.)

In addition to 100,000 college workers, Mr. Clinton wants 900,000 more volunteers. The goal is teaching children to read at grade level by the 3rd grade. The AmeriCorps national-service program would provide 11,000 volunteer coordinators in communities throughout the country, according to the initial proposal unveiled by the Clinton campaign in August.

In merging the Work-Study program into the reading initiative, Mr. Clinton is giving the $830 million student-aid program a new focus.

Colleges are now required to place 5 percent of the program's workers into a community-service program. But most students stock campus bookstore and library shelves, keep files in administrative offices, and clear cafeteria trays.

Will Program Lose Focus?

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans are wondering whether changing the focus of the Work-Study program is the best way to address reading problems.

"Rather than taking systematic review and doing it with Congress, they just announce one more feel-good program without thinking about how this integrates with anything that's out there," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said.

He promised to use his post as the chairman of the oversight panel for the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee to encourage the department to change its mind.

Work-Study administrators, while supportive, are cautious that Mr. Clinton's plan may be too ambitious in planning to place 100,000 students in tutoring jobs.

"What we're hoping is that there will be an atmosphere to encourage but not mandate what will happen," said Betty Gebhardt, the assistant director for student financial aid for the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board.

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