U.s. Education Secretary Visits Area To Tout Clinton Plan Richard W. Riley Spoke At Abington High School And Then Met With Phila. Mayor Street And District Officials.

Posted: January 29, 2000

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley visited the Philadelphia area yesterday to tout the education plan announced by President Clinton in his State of the Union address Thursday night.

He first stopped at Abington Senior High School in Montgomery County, which has earned national honors for its programs, and then he met with Mayor Street and Philadelphia School District officials.

Philadelphia school officials said they were thrilled with Clinton's proposals, which would invest billions in after-school programs, Head Start for low-income preschool children, and teacher recruitment efforts. All are deemed crucial by district officials.

The President's plan also would allot $350 million in construction bonds to Philadelphia for school renovation. District officials have estimated they need $750 million to repair aging schools. Philadelphia figures for the other initiatives were not available yesterday.

Barbara Grant, the school district's chief spokeswoman, said Clinton's proposal mirrors many of the initiatives in Superintendent David Hornbeck's Children Achieving plan. Increasing dollars for those programs is greatly needed at a time when the district faces an approximately $50 million deficit this year and larger shortfalls in subsequent years.

"Everything will help," she said.

Clinton's package is subject to debate and approval by Congress.

The plan, among other things, would:

Provide a $1 billion increase in Head Start funding, the largest increase ever proposed for the program, according to federal education officials. In Philadelphia, Hornbeck has said that about 15,000 low-income children eligible for Head Start are denied spots each year for lack of money.

More than double funding for after-school and summer programs. Clinton will ask Congress to appropriate $1 billion for the programs, up from $453 million this year. Studies have shown that extended learning programs such as after-school and summer school help students improve in reading and math and reduce juvenile crime, U.S. Department of Education officials said.

School districts would have to compete for the new funds through grant proposals.

Mayor Street recently proposed tripling the city's funding of after-school programs, and the city's Board of Education also plans to debate a proposal to infuse $5 million more into the programs.

Spend $1 billion on programs to recruit, train and reward good teachers. The plan includes funds to reward school districts that reduce the number of uncertified teachers in classrooms and provide grants to high-poverty districts such as Philadelphia to attract and retain teachers.

The Philadelphia School District struggles each year with finding enough teachers to staff its classrooms. This year, the district offered signing bonuses, but vacancies remained.

The federal plan also includes funding to help high-poverty districts develop programs to recruit "homegrown" teachers.

Boost funding to reduce class sizes to $1.75 billion, an increase of $450 million over the current year.

Philadelphia used the money this year to hire "literacy interns," non-certified educators who are paired with certified teachers in elementary classrooms and who work one-on-one or in small groups with students to improve learning.

Although a change in law says districts now must use the money to hire certified teachers, U.S. Department of Education officials yesterday praised Philadelphia's program and said they are trying to work out a compromise or waiver.

In addressing a gathering at Abington Senior High, Education Secretary Riley said: "Students today are facing an education whirl, a technological whirl, a whirl of information and knowledge. We've got to make sure that all of our children are prepared for this future."

Abington High in the last two years has earned federal Blue Ribbon School status as well as national recognition for anti-drug and service-learning programs. These accomplishments were noted by U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D., Pa.), who accompanied Riley.

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