A Speech for Those Who Don’t Read

Good now, play one scene
Of excellent dissembling, and let it look
Like perfect honor.

Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

The only conclusion one can draw is that the union on whose state Mr. Bush was reporting a few short days ago is, in many respects, quite a different union from the one in which many of the rest of us live.

In that hour long television program that aired on January 20, 2004 and consisted of long bursts of applause and standing ovations, interrupted by what are billed as carefully crafted thoughts from a president who has few, Mr. Bush in his State of the Union speech introduced us to two magnificent ideas that appeal to those who, like the president, don’t read newspapers.

In one of the spoken interludes, Mr. Bush said: “I propose larger Pell Grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school.” The Pell Grant program is a scholarship program that currently pays college tuition costs for about 4 million of the nation’s neediest students. Students can receive up to $4,000, no part of which needs be repaid. During 2003, the Bush administration imposed eligibility changes that will take effect in the 2004-2005 school year. It revised tables that determine how much a family may deduct from income for state and local taxes. The figure thus arrived at determines what size grant the family may receive. The administration reduced the amount that can be deducted.

In 2003 Pell grants were awarded to 4.9 million students, one-third of all students in the U.S. enrolled in college. The American Council on Education estimates that the revised tables will save the Federal government $270 million and eliminate 84,000 students from the program. One and a half million students will receive reduced awards. If the president follows through on his promise, in a few months the Pell Grant program may be back where it was at the beginning of 2003. It might even be better but no one should count on that until it actually happens.

(It’s worth noting that Pell Grants have received the president’s attention in other years. In an analysis of campaign promises made by Mr. Bush in 2000, Ron Hutcheson and William Douglas of Knight Ridder Newspapers, point out that he promised to increase Pell Grants from $3,300 to $5,100 for first-year students. Pell Grants never reached the $5,100 mark and Mr. Bush has never proposed that they be raised to that level.)

Pell Grants were not the only beneficiary of the president’s Tuesday night generosity. Job training was another. In the speech he said: “I propose increasing our support for America’s fine community colleges, so they can train workers for the industries that are creating the most new jobs.” The next day he went to Ohio touting the new program. Mr. Bush’s “Jobs for the 21st Century” plan would spur employment by spending $500 million on a variety of job-training and education programs, Mr. Bush said. Of that sum, $250 million would be given as grants to community colleges that partner with employers looking for higher-skilled workers. The $500 million that he proposes adding to job training will help make up for earlier actions taken by him.

His 2003 budget proposal cut out $476 million from the job training programs. His 2004 budget contained a proposed 25% cut ($300 million) to federal funding for vocational education. In addition he proposed consolidating job training grants to states for adult services into a single grant program, thus reducing by $60 million the amount of grants given a year ago. In the 2004 budget he presented in 2003, he proposed eliminating all funding for Youth Opportunity Grants, a program that gives job training to young people. In 2002 that program was funded at $225 million, in 2003 he proposed funding only $45 million ($43.5 million was actually funded) and in the 2004 budget, he proposed its elimination. Congress accepted his recommendation and funding has been eliminated. Any thought that funding for similar other programs might have been increased to offset the losses described above can be put to rest.

The FY 2004 budget gives less than a one percent increase to youth training, grants to prepare low-income youth for academic and employment success. Adult Employment and Training Activities that provide grants to states for employment and training assistance to low-income adults received less than 1 percent more in the 2004 budget than they received in the preceding year. Work Incentive Grants that enable states to improve access to the programs that provide for the delivery of effective employment and training services to persons with disabilities received the same amount in FY 2004 as they did in FY 2003.

Actions speak louder than words. Someone should let the president know.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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