Bush Acts to Fulfill Education Pledges From Campaign
President Bush, moving to back up his campaign pledge to become the “education President,” dispatched to Congress on Wednesday a $441-million program intended “to make excellence in education not just a rallying cry, but a classroom reality.”
The legislation would put into effect elements of the education platform Bush focused on during the presidential campaign, including cash awards for “merit” schools and top teachers, new science scholarships, promotion of magnet schools, and “alternative” certification to allow experts who lack training as teachers to work in classrooms.
But critics immediately charged that the new measure did not make up for inadequate Administration support for education programs already in place. In his proposed budget for the 1990 fiscal year, Bush sought no increase over 1989’s level of $21.9 billion, in effect allowing a reduction since there was no adjustment for the anticipated inflation of 3.5%.
“I think it’s a shell game,” said Bill Honig, California state superintendent of public instruction, in a telephone interview from Sacramento. Of Bush’s “education President” vow, he said: “The reality belies that.”
In a full-dress announcement ceremony, Bush and Education Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos unveiled the details of the education program in the White House Rose Garden with the 1989 National Teacher of the Year Award winner, Mary Bicouvaris of Hampton, Va., standing by.
‘Rewarding What Works’
“When education is the issue and budget constraints cloud everything on the horizon . . . we can start by rewarding what works,” Bush said.
“We can help those most in need. We can promote choice and flexibility for parents and school administrators. And we can raise expectations and hold ourselves accountable for the results,” he said.
Cavazos, responding to questions about how the program would be funded, said that the money would not be diverted from existing Department of Education programs.
“I don’t know where the money will come from but that’s another issue,” he told reporters. “These are new dollars.”
The Bush proposal would establish a “presidential merit schools program” to reward public and private elementary and secondary schools that make “substantial progress” in raising students’ educational achievement, reduce the rate of dropouts, and provide a drug-free environment. Some $250 million would be authorized for the program in 1990, $350 million in 1991, $450 million in 1992 and $500 million in 1993. No specific amounts were set for the individual awards.
Creates Teacher Awards
The program would also create $5,000 awards “to recognize first-rate teachers in every state, and reward them for a job well done,” Bush said.
Bush also announced a plan to award science scholarships of up to $10,000 a year for four years for “our best high school seniors.”
The President called for $100 million a year to help begin or expand public “magnet schools,” which offer specialized curricula to attract students and offer an alternative to the traditional community public schools.
Bush, who has frequently complained that knowledgeable experts in many fields are blocked from working in classrooms because they do not have teacher training and state teaching certificates, proposed “alternative certification” as “a way to expand the pool of talented teachers and administrators.”
“Whether you’re an acclaimed author like Alex Haley or John Updike, who aren’t certified to teach the literature courses in which their books are read, or a businessman from Odessa, Tex., anxious to go into the classroom to share what you know, our schools ought to offer that opportunity,” Bush said. The program would provide $25 million to the states to encourage greater certification flexibility for teachers and principals.
The program would also make $25 million available in each of the next four years for grants to education agencies in urban areas with some of the nation’s most severe drug problems.
In an effort to boost the endowments of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, the program would make $60 million available over four years in “challenge grants” to match private contributions.
The bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Republican Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, said prospects of passage are “very good,” and Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee’s education subcommittee, praised its prospects as “pretty good.”
But Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, predicted that the program “has no future on Capitol Hill, since the President is attempting to strip programs long supported by Congress to pay for new initiatives of questionable value.”
And Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said: “The bottom line is that the education budget of George Bush is less than the education budget of Ronald Reagan. It is less in dollars.”
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