- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Two months ago, President Bush told students and parents at a high school in Northern Virginia that he will do everything he can to “at the federal level to improve public education.” That same day, Jan. 12, the White House released a fact sheet on the president’s plan to reform high schools. The plan addresses some longstanding problems with America’s high schools, but the devil is in the details that Mr. Bush has failed to address. That is, the one-size-fits-all policies of public education leave too many children behind.

There are programs with success records that deserve more attention from Congress and the Bush White House, like Job Corps. The president wants to cut $29 million from Job Corps’ fiscal 2006 budget.

If you think I’ve flipped my conservative cap I haven’t. What I have done is met Tony, Leann, Mark, Johnson and other young people who, if it hadn’t been for Potomac Jobs Corps, probably would not have changed their errant ways and now be well on their way toward careers in the trades and the military.

Mark, for example, “was scheduled to ship off” to the Navy when he got into some “legal trouble.” The military was a logical career step for him since his dad is in the military. Mark now takes academic courses at Potomac and is on track to complete the electrician’s training program. Mark’s goal is to be based in either Norfolk or Coronado, Calif., come October, and join the Navy Seals.

While Tony, who attended high school in Alexandria, and Mark are from Northern Virginia and want to become electricians, Leann is from eastern Pennsylvania and is studying auto mechanics at nearby Ballou High School. Leann likes to tinker with cars and is quite aware that her career choice is not exactly one that young women are clamoring to get into, but she likes the “challenge” and looks forward to certification.

The Potomac center is near several military installations, including Bolling Air Force Base. The corps was established after Sargent Shriver convinced LBJ and LBJ convinced Congress that Job Corps was a necessary part of the White House War on Poverty. Today, all told, there are more than 100 Job Corps centers around the country.

As the program celebrates its 40th anniversary, some members of Congress are raising the accountability question (and perhaps rightly so), since the average cost of preparing a Job Corps student appears astronomical (about $22,000) compared to the costs of a traditional public student in, say, the nation’s capital (about $11,300). But that argument simply does not wash for several reasons. For one, Job Corps is a residential job-readiness program that also helps 16- to 24-year-olds earn a traditional diploma or a GED. Students also earn a driver’s license, and they are gvien a stipend and clothing. They get free medical and dental services, too. When they are ready to leave, students have either a job or a tight leash on a job — so they are not merely shepherded out the door with a diploma in one hand and no career propsects in the other.

I’m certain Mr. and Mrs. Bush are aware of Job Corps’ successful ways, but I’m not so sure they and Congress will give Job Corps the budget and newsworthy attention it deserves.

While the program has enjoyed four decades of bipartisan support, things are a little different this year with the 40th birthday and all. It’s just that there are Democrats who resent the fact that corporate America plays a large role in who gets contracts during a Republican White House and Republicans still resent that Job Corps is tied to Democrat-loving unions and that it was the brain child of Democrats — and Kennedy-connected Democrats at that.

But does it matter whether the young people being assisted by Job Corps are from a red state or a blue state? Does it matter whether Job Corps gets them a job as a nurse or welder, or employment at Amtrak or Norfolk Southern, or an apprenticeship as an auto mechaniic or a flight attendant trainee?

A $29 million budget cut won’t sound the death knell for Job Corps. Indeed, right now, Jeff Barton and the staff at the Potomac center are undergoing a $29 million construction project that could be a showcase for the Bushes.

But shaving off $29 million does mean fewer opportunities for Job Corps to prepare — one future at a time — teens and young adults who have been left behind by traditional public education. That’s the fiscal truth.

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