First Lady to Lead Youth Initiative

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President Bush is asking the first lady to head a proposed $150 million outreach effort aimed at helping at-risk youths, especially boys, have a successful future, he announced during his State of the Union Address last week.

He said young urban males need better options than apathy, joining gangs, or going to prison.

“Taking on gang life will be one part of a broader outreach to at-risk youth, which involves parents and pastors, coaches and community leaders, in programs ranging from literacy to sports,” Mr. Bush said in his Feb. 2 televised address before a joint session of Congress. “And I’m proud that the leader of this nationwide effort will be our first lady, Laura Bush.”

First Lady Laura Bush visits a Philadelphia Boys and Girls Club on Feb. 3 as part of her effort to help young urban males.
First Lady Laura Bush visits a Philadelphia Boys and Girls Club on Feb. 3 as part of her effort to help young urban males.
—Jacqueline Larma/AP

The three-year initiative is designed to help youths at risk of involvement in gang violence by providing federal grants to faith-based and community organizations, a White House fact sheet said. The plan would pay for efforts to educate parents and communities on the importance of promoting positive youth development and to inform them of successful prevention and intervention programs.

Education played only a small role in the first State of the Union speech of the president’s second term, with Mr. Bush dedicating most of the address to other matters, such as a proposed overhaul of the Social Security system and efforts to promote democracy abroad.

But Mr. Bush did refer to previously announced proposals that he says would help improve high schools.

“Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we’re closing the achievement gap for minority students,” he said. “Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success.”

President Bush is proposing to require additional testing at the high school level, and to target additional resources toward high schools, though at least some of that money was expected to come from diverting aid from existing Department of Education programs. The president was expected to release his formal budget request on Feb. 7. ("Bush's High School Agenda Faces Obstacles," this issue.)

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House, offered their party’s official televised response to the president’s address.

“From early-childhood education, to better elementary and high schools, to making college more affordable, to training workers so they can get better jobs, Democrats believe every American should have a world-class education and the skills they need in a world-wide economy,” Sen. Reid said.

Holding Bush ‘Accountable’

Mr. Reid was especially critical of the president’s plans to overhaul the Social Security system. He made no mention of the White House plans for high schools or the youth-outreach initiative that Mrs. Bush was tapped to oversee.

Overall, the senator promised to work with Mr. Bush in areas of agreement, but to fight hard against plans that the Democrats find unpalatable.

“I want you to know that when we believe the president is on the right track, we won’t let partisan interests get in the way of what’s good for the country,” Mr. Reid said. “We will be first in line to work with him. But when he gets off track, we will be there to hold him accountable.”

Vol. 24, Issue 22, Page 23

Published in Print: February 9, 2005, as First Lady to Lead Youth Initiative
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