Kennedy Unveils $330-Million Plan For Volunteerism

By Lisa Jennings — August 02, 1989 6 min read
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Washington--Senator Edward M. Kennedy last week unveiled a $330-million volunteerism proposal under which the schools would play a key role in enabling young people to serve society.

The Massachusetts Democrat’s long-awaited legislation, which represents a compromise forged from 10 separate bills, is the most prominent Congressional alternative to the youth-service initiative announced by President Bush in June.

Mr. Kennedy’s bill earmarks about $65 million for elementary- and secondary-school programs and $35 million for programs at colleges and universities. But observers here predict that school programs could be an even more important element in the legislation that ultimately emerges from the Congress, probably late next year.

“The call to service should come early, and it should be a vital part of the education for citizenship in every school system in the nation,” Senator Kennedy said in introducing the measure. “The lesson of service learned in youth will last a lifetime.”

In addition to its school and college provisions, Mr. Kennedy’s bill calls for two other major initiatives. One is a National Service Board, funded at $100 million a year, that would administer grants and establish standards to expand the development of full- and part-time youth-corps programs across the country.

The third part of the bill authorizes a $100-million demonstration program, under which states could experiment with incentives for service, such as cash stipends and vouchers for education or housing.

The compromise bill, which is scheduled for action in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee this week, differs sharply from the plan offered by Mr. Bush.

The President’s proposal calls for total spending of only $100 million, spread over four years, and reflects his strong opposition to creation of a grants-making agency that would become, he said, “just another bureaucracy.”

Tough Fight Ahead?

Youth-service advocates expressed qualified support for Mr. Kennedy’s proposal, but warned that it faces a difficult fight.

Frank Slobig, executive director of the Washington-based Youth Service America, described the Senate plan as “not ideal.”

“But at this stage in the game,” he said, “the important thing was to get a good strong bill out of committee, and they’ve done a terrific job.”

He predicted, however, that Mr. Bush would not “buy off” on any part of the Senate plan.

“But the President has been so up front about his rhetoric supporting the idea of youth service,” Mr. Slobig added, “that he may really put himself in a box if the Senate finally puts forth comprehensive legislation that he has to veto.”

Congressional aides noted that the Kennedy proposal so far appears to have support only from Democrats, with most Senate Republicans aligned with Mr. Bush on the issue.

In announcing his plan, Mr. Kennedy was accompanied by six other Democratic senators, several of whom proposed bills that were incorporated into the compromise: Bob Graham of Florida; Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland; George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader; Sam Nunn of Georgia; Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island; and Charles S. Robb of Virginia.

Mr. Kennedy stressed, however, that “the concept of volunteerism knows no party affiliations.”

‘Light on the Wallet’

Backers of the Kennedy plan described it as a relatively inexpensive approach appropriate to a time of tight fiscal constraints.

The bill is “heavy on will, but light on the wallet,” said Ms. Mikulski.

A spokesman for the Office of National Service, the newly created White House agency that is directing the President’s initiative, declined comment last week, saying officials had not yet had a chance to study the Kennedy proposal.

Meanwhile, the House appears ready to back a more modest youth-service plan that aides say will most likely have more bipartisan appeal.

The House version, aides say, probably will authorize lower funding levels for school- and corps-based service programs, and is not likely to include the demonstration program.

“I can’t really see what it aims to demonstrate,” one aide said.

No action on the youth-service proposals is expected in the House until later in the fall, after the President’s legislation is formally introduced, a Republican staff member predicted.

A Movement, Not a Bureaucracy

Mr. Bush said his Youth Engaged in Service to America initiative would spawn a “movement--bold and unprecedented--not another program or bureaucracy.”

Announcing his plan at a New York meeting, Mr. Bush called on “all of America’s institutions” to heed his “call to action” to help the homeless, the illiterate, school dropel15louts, drug users, pregnant teenagers, aids victims, and delinquent or suicidal youths.

Mr. Bush called for creation of a foundation known as the “Points of Light Initiative,” which he would chair. It would receive $25 million a year in federal funds for four years, and would seek to raise an equal amount in private contributions.

The White House is currently developing an advisory committee, headed by Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, to determine the foundation’s agenda, he said.

For example, Mr. Bush said, the foundation will operate a “ServNet Project,” through which major corporations, unions, schools, and religious and civic groups will be asked to donate talented employees to form working groups that will attempt to duplicate successful programs.

Through another project called “ServLink,” he explained, the foundation will attempt to match would-be volunteers with service opportunities through “volunteer centers.”

The President said he also planned to establish an awards program for outstanding volunteers, and to appoint “youth ambassadors” to promote volunteerism among the young.

Mr. Bush urged governors to establish similar initiatives in each state to marshal resources within communities and identify service needs.

Under the school-based portion of Mr. Kennedy’s bill, the Education Department would distribute three-year competitive grants to schools through state agencies, which would seek to set up school-community partnerships for students, as well as to bring volunteers from the community into schools.

National Service Board

The National Service Board created by the bill would offer options for forgiveness of college-student loans. Unlike a controversial proposal offered by Mr. Nunn this year, however, it would not replace existing loan and grant programs with vouchers for service.

Mr. Nunn emphasized that the bill’s demonstration projects would be purely experimental. They would operate for three to five years, he said, while the effectiveness of the incentives was evaluated.

Under the pilot program, the National Service Board would offer stipends of from $6,200 to $7,000 a year for full-time volunteers over the age of 17. In addition, volunteers could receive education and/or housing vouchers of up to $8,500 per year for up to two years of full-time service, or $3,000 per year for from three to six years of part-time service.

The Senate bill also seeks to expand existing federal service programs, such as vista and other projects operated by the action agency.

Mr. Bush, however, has said he does not want to link his initiative with any existing service agency or government branch.

A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 1989 edition of Education Week as Kennedy Unveils $330-Million Plan For Volunteerism


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