Education Yet Again a Sidelight In State of the Union

February 05, 2003 3 min read
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In a replay of last year’s State of the Union Address, President Bush spent little time talking about education in this year’s version.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Washington Gov. Gary Locke chat in Mr. Daschle’s conference room before Gov. Locke delivers the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union Address.
—Photograph by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Beyond a sentence reminding the joint session of Congress of the bipartisan effort that produced the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, the president’s Jan. 28 speech visited the subject just once more to outline a new proposal to train mentors for disadvantaged junior high school students and the children of prisoners.

“Tonight, I ask Congress and the American people to focus the spirit of service and the resources of government on the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, boys and girls trying to grow up without guidance and attention, and children who have to go through a prison gate to be hugged by their mom or dad,” he said.

Mr. Bush proposed spending $450 million over three years to recruit and train mentors for 1 million junior high students and more than 100,000 children of prisoners.

“One mentor, one person, can change a life forever, and I urge you to be that one person,” he said about midway through last week’s hour-long address.

The Bush administration was expected to unveil its new budget plans for fiscal 2004 on Feb. 3, a fiscal blueprint sure to provide a clearer picture of where education figures in administration priorities.

In the Democratic response to President Bush’s speech, Washington state Gov. Gary Locke reiterated the complaint from his party that the White House is unwilling to provide what Democrats view as sufficient funding to support the No Child Left Behind Act.

“Democrats worked with President Bush to pass a law that demands more of our students and invests more in our schools,” Gov. Locke said. “But his budget fails to give communities the help they need to meet these new, high standards. We say we want to leave no child behind, but our schools need more than kind words about education from Washington, D.C.—we need a real partnership to renew our schools.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor about the state of education. He, too, criticized the president’s education spending plans as penurious, and highlighted the difficult financial straits in which most states find themselves a year after Mr. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act.

“One year later, 45 states are in a serious budget crisis and schools are worse off, not better,” Sen. Kennedy said.

Details on Mentoring

Mr. Bush spent considerable time in his State of the Union speech talking about taxes, the economy, and domestic initiatives. The second portion of his address emphasized issues related to the war on terrorism and a possible war with Iraq.

At the same time, education was one of the first—and main—things he pointed to in discussing his accomplishments since taking office two years ago.

“During the last two years, we have seen what can be accomplished when we work together,” Mr. Bush said. “To lift the standards of our public schools, we achieved historic education reform which must now be carried out in every school, and in every classroom, so that every child in America can read and learn and succeed in life.”

At an event later last week, President Bush—joined by Secretary of Education Rod Paige and others—offered more details on the new mentoring initiative.

Of the $450 million over three years, $300 million would go toward a Department of Education program designed to support the development, expansion, and strengthening of exemplary mentoring programs aimed at disadvantaged middle school students. A White House fact sheet says the initiative would build on an existing mentoring program authorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. That program was funded at $17.5 million in fiscal 2002.

The president’s initiative would provide grants to nonprofit, community, and faith-based organizations, as well as school districts, to link disadvantaged students to adult mentors through school-based programs, the fact sheet said.

In addition, the president proposed a new program, to be run by the Department of Health and Human Services—in collaboration with the Justice Department and other agencies—to connect children of prisoners with adult mentors. The program, to be funded at $150 million over three years, would target children ages 10 to 14.

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