Bush Would Let Churches Compete For After-School Aid
Faith-based and community organizations could compete with schools for federal after-school grants under a recent campaign proposal from Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Currently, only schools can apply directly for money under the 21st Century Learning Centers program, though they can collaborate with such organizations.
"By opening up the bidding process and giving parents more choices, we will enrich the overall effectiveness of after-school programs across America," Gov. Bush, who is slated to formally claim the Republican presidential nomination this week, argued during a July 14 campaign stop in Elizabeth, N.J.
He also proposed spending $400 million a year to provide low- income families with certificates to help defray the costs of after-school care. The money would be added to the $3.6 billion Child Care Development Block Grant program.
Mr. Bush picked up on a theme that has resonated in Congress. During the Senate Appropriations Committee's consideration of education spending legislation this spring, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., succeeded in adding language that would allow community-based organizations to apply for the 21st Century Learning Centers grants.
Some national education groups argued, however, that the grants should flow through schools to keep a focus on academic achievement. Critics also raised questions about potential church- state entanglements. The Gregg amendment made no mention of religious organizations. For its part, the Clinton administration has called on Congress to allow up to 10 percent of the program's funds to go directly to community- based groups, provided the local school district agrees.
Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, charged that politics was the driving force behind Mr. Bush's announcement, and said it echoed Mr. Gore's call last year to step up federal aid for after- school programs. Mr. Gore in May pledged to double the $1 billion that President Clinton has requested for the 21st Century program in fiscal 2001, and also proposed creating a new tax credit to help middle- and low-income families defray after-school costs.
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, is also promising to spend $75 million over five years to encourage veterans to serve as mentors and tutors for young people.
"America's veterans have undertaken missions abroad to protect our nation's freedom," he said July 13 at a stop in Pittsburgh. "Now we must engage these courageous men and women in a new mission at home—to pass on the qualities of discipline, character, hard work, and civic responsibility to the next generation of Americans."
Under the proposal, federal matching grants would be provided to community organizations that helped link retired military personnel with young people through mentoring, tutoring, after-school, and other programs.
Television viewers in 20 states can get a glimpse of Gov. Bush's education agenda and record, thanks to a new "issue" advertisement paid for by the Republican National Committee.
"If we really want to make sure no child gets left behind in America, we need the courage to raise standards in our schools," Mr. Bush says in the ad. "We need more accountability and more discipline. And we need to stop promoting failing children to the next grade and giving up on them."
The ad, which was first broadcast last month and cost about $12 million to produce and air, includes images of the Texas governor with schoolchildren, pictures of students, and a graduation ceremony. An announcer touts the governor's record: "George Bush raised standards. Test scores soared. Texas leads the country in academic improvement"—for minority children, a message printed on the screen adds. The ad closes with Mr. Bush saying: "It's easy just to spend more. Let's start by expecting more."
While Texas is generally viewed as having made substantial progress in improving student achievement, especially for minority children, critics say that Mr. Bush has taken credit for gains due at least in part to the efforts of his predecessors. ("Bush Record on Education Defies Labels," Sept. 22, 1999.)
—Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 19, Issue 43, Page 31