Urban Education

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Condemning what they described as years of financial and political neglect, big-city education leaders last week called for a modern-day Marshall Plan to revitalize America's urban schools.

The proposal unveiled by the Council of the Great City Schools calls on states, corporations, and the public to spend more on city schools, and on federal officials to make urban education a higher national priority.

"If the government of the United States could devote billions of dollars to rebuild countries overseas, it certainly has the power to devote funds to rebuild schools here at home," said Michael D. Casserly, the council's executive director, in announcing the plan at the group's annual legislative conference in Washington.

The council, which represents 48 of the nation's largest urban school systems, said the plan's overarching goal was to help city schools "educate the nation's most diverse student body to the highest academic standards."

The plan offers a blueprint for federal legislation that would provide block grants for initiatives aimed at, among other purposes, boosting achievement, improving school management, and helping families affected by welfare and immigration reform.

A draft of the plan pegged the cost of those grants at $500 million annually, but council officials described that number as an estimate.

They said they had discussed the proposal with members of Congress from both parties but as yet had no sponsors.

In addition, the council's plan:

  • Strongly endorses President Clinton's proposed $5 billion school construction package. But it portrays that effort as just a first step in meeting staggering facility needs.
  • Urges states to close the funding gaps between city and suburban schools, which it calls "a national disgrace and a moral outrage."
  • Incorporates goals that the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson outlined last month at an urban schools conference in Chicago, including a push to mobilize city parents to get more involved in their children's schooling.

The proposed Marshall Plan takes its name from the post-World War II effort to rebuild Europe championed by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

"Children in urban schools are as important, talented, and smart as children anywhere else and have the same right to a high-quality education," Mr. Casserly said. "It is long past time that we gave it to them."

--CAROLINE HENDRIE [email protected]

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