WASHINGTON—The Education Department has announced that it will award $7 million to the Los Angeles County Office of Education to support a new job-training initiative in riot-torn areas of Los Angeles.
Under the program, which was announced late last month, at-risk youths, high school dropouts, and unemployed adults will be offered vocational training as well as literacy classes and English instruction for those with limited proficiency.
The project’s staff, which has yet to be hired, will develop an “individual career and academic plan” for each of the expected 2,790 participants, with a goal of eventually placing 1,590 of them in the workforce. The program will be overseen by the county education office in conjunction with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles Community College District, and Workforce L.A., a coalition of area business, education, government, labor, and community organizations.
At the same time, the department announced that it will allocate $2 million for Los Angeles social programs under the interagency “Weed and Seed” program, a Bush Administration initiative designed to stem crime and drug abuse and create more educational and job opportunities for youths in urban areas.
The $9 million needed to fund the two programs will come out of $100 million that Congress appropriated for the Administration’s America 2000 program, which was never enacted. The appropriations committees in both houses of Congress rejected most of the department’s plan for spending the funds, but approved the Los Angeles grants.
Meanwhile, a Presidential task force on the Los Angeles recovery, co-chaired by Deputy Education Secretary David T. Kearns and Deputy Housing and Urban Development Secretary Albert A. Delli-Bovi, submitted a report on July 30 to President Bush setting forth an action plan for rebuilding the city.
‘Career Academies’ Supported
Most of the recommendations focus on helping businesses recover from the damage inflicted during the riots. But the report also calls on the federal departments of education, defense, and energy to collaborate with local school officials to develop the “career academies” that were under discussion in the district before the riots.
The new schools would be staffed by retired military personnel and would offer academic instruction, vocational classes, and leadership training to at-risk youths.
The proposed academies, which have been under discussion in several parts of the country, would be tied into existing Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in Los Angeles high schools and would offer “broad-based exposure” to a variety of careers in business and industry and other nonmilitary fields, according to Gabriel Cortina, an assistant superintendent of the L.A.U.S.D.
“Our district strongly supports the concept of career academies,” Mr. Cortina said, “because it connects kids to the real world and it acknowledges that no matter how effective teaching is, we can’t just teach in the classroom.”
To date, however, the program lacks funding. Both Congressional appropriations committees rejected an Education Department request to use $4 million of the $100 million set-aside to launch the academies in Los Angeles and several other cities across the country.
Union Official Critical
Betsy Brand, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said the department hopes to obtain Defense Department funds to support the program.
Even if the project is funded, Mr. Cortina acknowledged that it could have only a limited impact on a couple of schools.
We’re also very concerned that the focus has been limited to the riot areas,” Mr. Cortina said. District officials have asked the task force to broaden the definition of “enterprise zones” included in its report to include a geographic region encompassing eight school districts that have been “heavily impacted by poverty and related issues,” Mr. Cortina said.
“Something like $4 million is just not going to go very far,” Deputy Mayor Linda Griego of Los Angeles conceded. “I think probably it [career academies] will not make a major difference, but it will make some difference.”
Helen Bernstein, the president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, said last week that she had not heard of the task force’s recommendations and expressed frustration that teachers were not consulted about the proposed career academies.
“I find it absolutely abhorrent that someone should make a recommendation about what should happen in Los Angeles city schools and not talk to one practitioner,” Bernstein said. “You don’t just throw someone in a classroom; you’re supposed to be trained, you’re supposed to be a professional.”