President Asks Legal Profession to ‘Recommit’ to Diversity
President Bill Clinton spoke to more than 200 guests in the White House’s East Room last month, calling on them to continue to support diversity in the legal community.“I ask you to recommit yourselves … to fighting discrimination, to revitalizing our poorest communities, and to giving people an opportunity to serve in law firms who would not otherwise have it,” Clinton said.The call to action marked the 36th anniversary of the first presidential gathering of the nation’s top lawyers and legal scholars by President John F. Kennedy.During his address, Clinton said the Department of Justice and the White House Office on the President’s Initiative for One America would continue their support for greater diversity in the nation’s law firms, bar associations, and within the ranks of lawyers.Representatives from the American Bar Association and the American Corporate Counsel Association said they would also commit their organizations to generate greater diversity, according to the Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan student newspaper.It also was announced that the nation’s leading law firms would commit to the American Bar Association’s pro bono standard — where those firms’ lawyers will spend about 3 percent of their time on pro bono work — with full pay.Additionally, the American Association of Law Schools will strengthen community service programs by providing law students with chances to volunteer their legal skills in their communities.Clinton said during his address that he expressed “respectful disagreement” with court decisions that have abolished affirmative action programs.Also earlier this month, Clinton announced that the Department of of Education has awarded $120 million to a new program aimed at helping disadventaged young people prepare for college. The grants were the first 185 awarded to colleges in 21 states.The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program, or GEAR UP, will allow agencies and colleges to create mentorship and counseling programs and start college preparatory curriculums to encourage students to go to college. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) led efforts to pass the early college outreach program. Grants totaling $75 million were awarded to 164 partnerships between colleges and middle and junior high schools. The remaining $42 million went to state programs in 21 states.
Teacher Education Bill Prompts ControversyWith teacher education a high priority for Congress this year, House Democrats are trying to ensure that any new federal legislation recognizes the potential role of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).The Smart Classrooms Act, H.R. 2390, introduced by a cross-section of Democrats, would encourage states to fund teacher education partnerships involving HBCUs and HSIs. Such partnerships could receive at least $20 million, and possibly more, from an estimated $1 billion new annual program.The legislation from Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) also would place a priority on serving high-poverty areas. States would get half of their money based on poverty rates for children ages 5 to 17, and local schools would get about half their funds based on school-age poverty rates.“We have a window of opportunity, a great door of opportunity open right now for some serious education reform, and we have some funds to back it up,” Owens says, referring to the federal government’s expanding surplus and the need to spend some of it on education.The bill also would provide states and school districts with funds to train paraprofessionals, create teaching academies, improve content standards, and pursue other K-12 education reforms. Teacher recruitment and education — including alternative methods to obtain teacher certification — also are part of the proposal. Over five years, Martinez has projected total funding of $7.5 billion for the initiative, along with other grants to promote educational improvement.So far, however, the plan is taking a back seat to a Republican-sponsored initiative that would promote teacher enhancement — but at the expense of some existing federal programs.The full House, in late July, approved the Teacher Empowerment Act (TEA), which would consolidate the federal government’s Goals 2000 program and the president’s class-size reduction initiative into a new program to further teacher development and education. The class-size reduction initiative provided $1.4 billion last year to help schools hire more teachers and avoid overcrowding in high-poverty schools. Talk of eliminating this program rankles many Democrats.“Educationally, this is Robin Hood in reverse,” Owens says of the GOP plan. “It will take from the poorest schools where education policy presently directs money, and spread it out and not provide any new resources.”The congressman called it another beachhead in Republican efforts to block grant federal education funds.Republicans counter that their approach is the best way to promote state and local flexibility, noting that states and schools still could use TEA funds for teacher education. Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Education Committee, says qualified teachers are more important than simply using underqualified teachers to reduce class sizes.“We worked hard to find the right balance between retaining and training quality teachers and reducing class size,” Goodling says.TEA, also known as H.R. 1995, gained House approval by a 239-185 vote, with 24 Democrats joining 215 Republicans in voting for the bill. Most Congressional Black Caucus members voted against the plan.Despite the approval, however, the vote was far short of the two-thirds majority required to override an expected presidential veto. In addition to supporting the class-size reduction program, the White House also wants to preserve the integrity of the Goals 2000 program, aides say.As a result of this debate, they note, the Martinez-Owens plan may get more attention if Congress and the White House seek a bipartisan solution to the issue.The Senate has not scheduled action on the House teacher bill. Both chambers have a full slate of hearings this summer on K-12 education as they prepare to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which includes teacher programs as well as the massive Title I program for low-income children.
Tax Plans Spur DebateGot an extra $800 billion lying around? Long beset by budget woes, the federal government now has that extra money, but Republicans want to use it for massive tax cuts.Plans approved by the full House and a Senate committee would provide tax relief for individuals and corporations — and provide a few education-related benefits. But critics, including the White House, say it will take funds away from needed national investments, including education.“Tax cuts that size quite simply are bad economic policy,” says President Clinton, claiming Congress simultaneously is considering cuts in education funding. “It is certainly bad to cut education at a time when it’s more important to our children’s future than ever.”The Senate tax bill does contain several education-friendly provisions. It would end the five-year time limit from which students can deduct interest on their educational loans and ease income limits so that more moderate- and high-income earners could deduct their loan interest.For example, individuals earning above $40,000 a year and couples earning more than $60,000 annually will gradually begin to lose their ability to deduct loan interest because of income. Under the new bill, the deductions would not begin to phase out until $50,000 for an individual and $100,000 for joint filers.The Senate bill also allows tax-free distributions from state and private prepaid tuition plans and would make permanent some tax-free benefits for employer-provided tuition.In the House bill, lawmakers would expand the uses of educational savings accounts and allow taxpayers to put more money in these special savings accounts.Overall, estimates of the House-Senate education tax breaks range from $6 billion to $10 billion, or about 1 percent of the total cost.The White House has had little to say about the GOP’s education provisions but has labeled the entire tax bills too expensive. President Clinton has proposed a more modest $300 billion tax cut, with the rest of funds used to shore up Social Security and Medicare and make investments in education and other programs. The president’s new Education and Children’s Trust Fund proposal would reserve $156 billion for education during the next 15 years, and one goal of the fund is to increase funding for Pell Grants. Head Start, after-school programs, job training, and children’s health care also would receive funds under the president’s trust fund proposal.
ED Offers New FundsThe U.S. Education Department is looking for 130 colleges and universities willing to help low-income students seek a graduate degree.ED is offering $18 million in grants under the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program. The department expects an average award of $138,000 per grantee in the competition, which has a deadline of Oct. 4.For more information, contact Cosette Ryan at (202) 260-3608.
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