Saturday, January 27, 2007

EDUCATION PLAN GOES FROM L.A. TO NATION: Mayor Villaraigosa joins leaders of cities in unveiling $100B plan to boost education, fight poverty.

by Lisa Friedman, from the Washington Bureau of the Long Beach Press Telegram

01/25/2007 - WASHINGTON - In an ambitious move to end urban poverty and aid the nation's struggling cities, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday unveiled a $100 billion plan to guarantee a college education to future generations of American children.

Flanked by leaders of other metropolitan cities plagued by poverty and crime, Villaraigosa told the U.S. Conference of Mayors that improving education across the country will clear a path to the middle class for millions.

The plan by the mayors' task force on poverty calls for universal pre-kindergarten instruction; a tax-free, government-matched college savings account for every child; and a multibillion-dollar investment in schools that combine academics with career training.

The proposal is among the most far-reaching poverty plans ever put forward by mayors and would unfold over two decades.

"People are going to say, `How much is all of this going to cost?' But the real question is, `How much does it cost us now not to make these investments?"' Villaraigosa said during his speech at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.

"There's homeless people all over Los Angeles; he's got people in the city who are dying from poverty that he hasn't helped," said Dave Thompson, a 73-year-old Los Angeles public-access talk show host.

Villaraigosa, he said, "is a dreamer. He's not realistic. He just loves the publicity."

And with Democrats now controlling the House and Senate, many city leaders said Thursday, some of the plan's proposals have a realistic chance of gaining congressional support and being enacted.

Over the next several months, Villaraigosa said, he and other task force members will travel to Miami and Detroit to seek support for the package. Meanwhile, city leaders have been lobbying congressional delegations for support as well.

"I know every one of these people," said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who served 27 years in Congress before retiring in 1998.

"I know the language. I understand the conversation. I can maybe play a small role in saying to the mayors, `You do have the capacity to change the conversation on poverty."'

Villaraigosa said he has discussed the package with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, as well as with Rep. George Miller, D-Vallejo, the new chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Miller made no commitments, but, Villaraigosa said, "he's very interested."

With a number of education programs up for reauthorization this year - including Head Start, No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act - some of the mayors' proposals are likely to dovetail with Congress' agenda.

"Mayor Villaraigosa is right to say that boosting educational attainment is critical if we want to alleviate poverty and strengthen America's middle class," said Tom Kiley, spokesman for the Education Committee.

Republicans said they also remain open-minded about the education plan.

Steven Ford, spokesman for Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita, the leading Republican on the education panel, noted that the previous GOP-dominated House passed pension legislation that included an extension of the 529 college-savings plan.

Villaraigosa's proposed tax-free college savings account calls for the federal government to offer every child $500 at birth and up to $500 in matching funds annually for deposits made into the account.

Accessing the funds

A student could access the money after graduation from high school - as much as $30,000 - and use it toward college or job training.

"What he's proposing seems to recognize the fact that we're in a changing economy," Ford said. "People who have jobs right now want to find additional training. At the same time, families who want to send their kids to college need to find new and better ways to save for that."

Still, the mayors are expected to face steep challenges as they lobby for the package.

"Where does the money come from? That's probably the biggest challenge," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.


McLean noted California's failed attempt to pass a ballot measure providing pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds.

"If we want our public education system to deliver the results we want, we're going to have to make greater investments," McLean said.

But a number of mayors said they hoped that placing a spotlight on poverty would generate a national discussion about the issue.

"We want it to come out of the mouths of every presidential candidate," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who co-chaired the task force.

"It's not just a tin cup," he said of the mayors' anti-poverty plan. "We're not saying `Give us some money.' It's a strategy so we can continue to compete in the global economy."

Villaraigosa won an enthusiastic response in Washington from other mayors who lauded the strategy as a long-overdue effort to attack poverty from the front end.

At home, however, the mayor ran into some criticism.

"There's homeless people all over Los Angeles; he's got people in the city who are dying from poverty that he hasn't helped," said Dave Thompson, a 73-year-old Los Angeles public-access talk show host.

Villaraigosa, he said, "is a dreamer. He's not realistic. He just loves the publicity."

• smf opines: It looks like our mayor, denied taking over LAUSD by the courts, wants to take over the kit ‘n caboodle! It’s interesting that he is allied with the mayors of Detroit and Oakland – two cities where mayoral control of the schools has been tried and repudiated by the voters.

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