Bush Speech Offers Few Details in Education Agenda

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Washington--If educators hoped to garner any details about President Bush's education agenda for the coming year from his State of the Union Message last week, they were disappointed.

The Jan. 29 speech made only passing references to the nation's schools, and it echoed now-familiar Administration themes, such as increasing parental choice in education and making America number one in math and science achievement.

Rumors had been circulating for weeks that the President would use the speech to clarify his stance on school choice--specifying, for instance, whether he favored expanding it to private as well as public schools. However, no such details were unveiled.

Similarly, while the President suggested that he would reintroduce some version of his "Educational Excellence Act" in the 102nd Congress, he did not elaborate. The bill died in the waning hours of the last legislative session.

Indeed, Mr. Bush's modest outline for domestic programs departed little from previous proposals of his own Administration or that of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Chief among them is a plan to revive a scaled-down version of the "New Federalism," which was last introduced by Mr. Reagan in 1982.

Under the proposal, as much as $20 billion in federal programs would be consolidated and "turned over" to the states to run free from federal regulations.

"Working with Congress and the governors," Mr. Bush said, "I propose we select at least $15 billion in such programs and turn them over to the states in a single consolidated grant--fully funded--for flexible management by the states."

The value of such an approach, he suggested, is that it would reduce federal overhead, allow states to manage programs more flexibly and efficiently, and move power and decisionmaking closer to the people.

In addition, he said, "it reinforces a theme of this Administration: appreciation and encouragement of the innovative power of 'states as laboratories."'

Mr. Bush did not specify whether any education programs would be included in the so-called "turnover." He was expected to submit his budget to Capitol Hill this week.

In his speech, Mr. Bush promised a budget for the 1992 fiscal year that would promote investment in children and in education.

But he cautioned that he would limit the growth in spending to less than the rate of inflation, making large gains in educational spending unlikely.

The President also made a brief mention of his policies in both civil rights and health care. In the latter, he pledged new "prevention initiatives" for infants and children that would promote a "healthier America" and keep down spiraling health-care costs.

On civil rights, Mr. Bush said that all Americans have "a responsibility to speak out against racism, bigotry, and hate." But he offered no new proposals, and did not clarify his stance on minority scholarships for higher education.

The bulk of the State of the Union Message--and most of the applause--was reserved for the President's assessment of the war in the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Bush also promised that the recession would be brief, referring to it as a temporary interruption of economic growth.

Early in the speech, the President urged Americans to embrace the spirit of volunteerism that has been a leitmotif of his tenure.

And without using the term, he gingerly endorsed the theme of "empowerment," which is being pushed by conservative Republicans in the White House.

Mr. Bush asserted that his proposed budget would "put more power and opportunity in the hands of the individual," but he did not spell out any new initiatives. So far, the only education initiative linked to the theme of empowerment has been the Administration's support of school choice.

Vol. 10, Issue 20, Page 22

Published in Print: February 6, 1991, as Bush Speech Offers Few Details in Education Agenda
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