In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush announced a new, comprehensive program designed to boost job skills for the new millennium by improving high school and post-secondary education. Named Jobs for the 21st Century, the President’s plan proposes over $500 million in new funding for education and job training programs.
“Many of the fastest-growing occupations require strong math and science preparation, and training beyond the high school level,” Bush said. “We must ensure that older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now.”
The way to enhance American job skills for a changing economy, the President declared, is to better prepare high school students to enter higher education or the workforce. Jobs for the 21st Century will “provide extra help to middle and high school students who fall behind in reading and math.” According to the White House, the program will provide $100 million for a Striving Readers Initiative that will promote effective reading interventions for struggling secondary students. An additional $120 million will go to accelerate the mathematics performance of low-achieving students, an expansion of the mathematics and science program authorized by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Education leaders have long voiced concern that too many secondary students lack the basic literacy skills they need to successfully graduate from high school. Last month, 30 organizations and 170 individuals sent a letter to President Bush urging that he “increase dramatically the federal education investment in (his) FY2005 budget proposal to a level sufficient to address the needs of the eight million students currently reading below basic levels in grades four through 12.” (The full text of the letter is available at:https://all4ed.org/about_the_crisis/presidential_letter.)
The President’s proposal falls short of that goal but opens the door to a new federal role in helping struggling readers of all ages. “Many students are at risk of dropping out of school in part because of deficient reading skills,” the GOP conference press office stated. “High school graduates are not entering college and the workforce with the skills they need to compete in a changing economy.”
In addition to funding for reading and math, Jobs for the 21st Century provides $28 million to expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools, $40 million to recruit math and science professionals to teach part time, and $12 million to fund the State Scholars Program, which encourages high school students to take rigorous courses in preparation for college.
The administration also recommended $250 million for community colleges that partner with local employers in high-demand job sectors, and it seeks to increase funding for Pell Grants for college students by $33 million. In exchange for participating in the State Scholars Program, Pell recipients may receive an additional $1,000 per year in their first two years of college.
“By all these actions,” Bush concluded, “we will help more and more Americans join in the growing prosperity of our country.”
With the announcement of Jobs for the 21st Century, President Bush has turned a national spotlight on America’s middle and high schools. His new initiative appears to be an effort that builds upon and expands NCLB to improve the quality of our country’s secondary schools. The details of the President’s proposal will be released next month as part of his budget request for fiscal year 2005.
A detailed description of Jobs for the 21st Century is available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040121.html