Kennedy Youth-Service Plan Would Involve Schools

By Lisa Jennings — June 14, 1989 4 min read
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Washington--Senator Edward M. Kennedy last week outlined a compromise national-youth-service bill under which volunteer programs would be closely linked with schools.

By allowing young people to begin a lifetime of service as early as kindergarten, Senator Kennedy said, the nation could move “out of the ‘me’ generation” and into the “generation of service to others.”

The Massachusetts Democrat’s appearance at a national conference sponsored by Youth Service America, a Washington-based advocacy group, offered the clearest picture so far of compromise legislation under development in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Senator Kennedy, who chairs the committee, said he would introduce the compromise bill before the end of the month.

His announcement could come on the heels of President Bush’s proposal for a youth-service program, which is expected to be unveiled next week.

Barbara Bush, the First Lady, and Gregg Petersmeyer, executive director of the White House Office for National Service, are scheduled to announce the plan at a youth-service conference to be held June 18-21 in New Orleans by volunteer, the National Center, according to a spokesman for the center.

Mr. Kennedy said last week that his committee had not received any information from the White House on the shape of the President’s plan.

Bipartisan Backing Sought

Announcement of the two plans will clear the way for youth-service legislation to move in the Congress, observers predicted.

An aide to Mr. Kennedy noted that Republicans on the committee had been reluctant to “come to the table” on the compromise bill until after the Administration’s plan was revealed.

Bipartisan support, she added, will determine the success of the Senate bill, which is expected to be the focus of action on youth-service legislation.

Of the 10 youth-service bills currently in the Senate, four have been introduced by members of the labor panel. Senator Kennedy said the compromise “incorporates the best aspects of each of these proposals.”

The Kennedy bill, like those proposed by Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, calls for linking youth-service programs to the schools.

“Service should be a vital part of the education for citizenship in every school system in the nation,” Senator Kennedy said.

The Senate compromise will not include a mandate for service in any form, he vowed.

“We do not have to compel young Americans to serve our country, or threaten important programs like student aid to meet our goal,” he said.

Financial Aid, Other Provisions

The Senator apparently was referring to a controversial proposal by Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, to replace existing financial-aid programs with tuition assistance earned through national service.

“All we have to do is ask--and provide the opportunity for service,’' Mr. Kennedy said.

In addition to the school-based component, the Senator said the compromise bill would:

Expand the existing national network of conservation corps.

Provide loan forgiveness and scholarship aid “for those willing to make a reasonable full-time commitment.”

The aide emphasized that no existing forms of financial aid would be replaced under the bill.

Expand vista, the federal domestic-service agency, and the Older American Volunteer Programs.

Both efforts currently are operated by action, an independent agency.

Encourage service opportunities for people of all ages.

Mr. Kennedy’s aide also made clear that the Senate bill would in some way offer federal funds to aid service programs. White House officials have indicated, on the other hand, that their initiative will not directly fund such programs.

Other aspects of the Senate plan--including the level of funding needed, and the administrative structure of the initiative--will be released later, aides said.

Senator Kennedy said he hoped to schedule committee action on the bill by mid-July.

Building the ‘Hope Factor’

Also last week, the Children’s Defense Fund released a report calling for strengthening and expanding youth-service programs as a means of benefiting at-risk youths.

By participating in service programs, the report argues, disadvantaged youths will build their self-esteem, thus increasing the “hope factor” that could help them improve their lives.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the organization, told the conference that adults should train children to believe that “service is the rent we pay for living.”

“The resurgence of youth service can play a major role in restoring hope to this nation,” she said.

“The Children’s Defense Fund has spent the last five years studying adolescent pregnancy, and we’ve learned that hope is the best contraceptive there is,” she added. “Building that kind of self-esteem is essential if young people are to believe that they have other options in life than young parenthood.”

The cdf report does not advocate any specific youth-service proposal. But it offers several recommendations for the federal initiative, which, Ms. Edelman argued, “will only supply one piece of the solution.’'

The suggestions are largely in line with Senator Kennedy’s description of the forthcoming compromise legislation.

The report recommended that any federal program be built by expanding existing service structures; that financial incentives, stipends, or rewards be offered for service, but not linked with financial aid; and that federal funds be targeted on poorer communities.

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 1989 edition of Education Week as Kennedy Youth-Service Plan Would Involve Schools


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