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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2002

Fund Pell another way

As colleges contemplate substantial tuition increases, now is a good time for the federal government to increase funding to help college students. But the President wants Congress to cut K-12 programs to make that happen. This is a bad idea.

President Bush is hunting for $1.3 billion so the federal government can keep giving college grants to deserving students. In the 30-year existence of the Pell Grant program, eligible students whose family incomes are below $30,000 have not been turned away. Consequently, because no deserving student has been rejected, there is a $1.3 billion shortage.

In addressing the deficit, Mr. Bush has targeted valuable programs for elimination. They include after-school, literacy, computer, theater, dance, teacher training, and construction projects on government property.

However, isn't this the same president who only weeks ago signed a measure mandating reading and math tests for grade-school children starting in the school year 2005-06? Mr. Bush's $26.5 billion bill is intended to close the gap between both well-to-do and impoverished students and minority and white children.

But how can urban students, who more often than not are poor and minority, expect to improve their performance when Mr. Bush on one hand gives out government funded mandates, but on the other takes them away? After-school, literacy, computer, and arts programs are vital to student success.

Mr. Bush cannot dismiss these programs and expect performance to improve. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former superintendent of schools in Houston, should know that. There is value in after-school programs. Moreover, most of the others supplement what teachers give in the classrooms.

There must be some other place where Congress can look to make up the shortage. Mr. Bush has the right idea, but he's focusing in on the wrong place.

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