UNION, N.J. -- President Bush embraced a 'partial deregulation of education' Thursday in touting his educational proposals before a New Jersey school system that has implemented one of his plans for schools nationwide.
In the blue-collar community of Union, where reform has cut the student dropout rate significantly, Bush promoted an effort to reduce government rules in order to help certain districts reward high performance with more money.
'We want to help those most in need,' he said in prepared remarks, 'targeting federal resources where they can do the most good. We want to waive some regulations for poorer communities, allowing them to pool state and federal funds in exchange for higher accountability and performance -- a kind of performance-driven partial deregulation of education.'
Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos, along for the trip, explained that Bush would like to ease regulations beyond his plan for only vocational education, a plan that went to Congress this week to renew a law that expires Sept. 30.
Bush's vocational proposal would amend the law to require states to develop performance standards to measure the success of vocational education programs and to determine which local programs should survive. The plan would eliminate most set-aside and categorical programs, however, which has drawn criticism.
Thursday's day trip by the self-styled 'education president' marked his first foray out of Washington since he sent Congress the full 1990 education package he had promised in his White House campaign last year.
Bush arrived in Union and stopped his motorcade on an avenue lined with children holding banners from their various schools. He jumped out of his limousine to wave to the screaming students, ignoring a single protest sign that said: 'Education needs more $$$, not more photo opportunities.'
Bush, who has said he enjoys seeing schools firsthand before making policy, had intended to travel afterward to his summer retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the rest of the week. His itinerary changed Wednesday, however, when budget negotiations neared completion and personal plans were altered.
The president kept his date in Union, he said, because of the emphasis he puts on education. In his prepared remarks to the 1,400-student Union High School, he drew an unusual comparison to the late movie temptress Mae West, recalling: 'She wanted to be remembered for everything. My goal is a little more modest, but I do want to be remembered as the education president.'
Bush declared, 'Good schools in America are a social responsibility, yes, and an economic necessity. We share the conviction that there is no such thing as an expendable student.'
Touting his proposal for a presidential merit program rewarding schools that get results, he concluded, 'We'll give you the flexibility; you show us the results. I predict they'll be outstanding.'
With an emphasis on keeping students in school, the Union system has done just that, according to Superintendent James Caulfield. While the national dropout rate is 25 percent, the town of about 50,000 residents boasts a rate of 1 percent to 2 percent.
'We keep throwing programs and s fety nets at them until one of them takes,' Caulfield explained Wednesday.
For example, he said, in his system's elementary schools each building has one staffer whose only job is to work with children experiencing problems adjusting to their environments, and in high school varied programs are offered in hopes of being ableto fit all interests, including vocational programs in television technology and robotics.
In his legislative package, Bush proposed rewarding such public and private elementary and secondary schools that make substantial progress in raising student achievement, and he also would support magnet school programs that successfully increase parental choice and improve educational quality. He also would provide alternative certification of, and rewards for, top teachers.
Bush's seven-point plan, announced April 5, proposed adding $422.6 million over the 1990 educational budget amount submitted by President Reagan. S ying he is unable to spend as much as he would like because of the federal budget deficit, Bush explained that presidential merit schools would be selected by states, using federal criteria focusing on specific areas of progress.
Bush's visit Thursday coincided with a three-day education conference in the school district with representatives from Colorado, New Hampshire, Missouri, Utah, South Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee to showcase the program, which has the support of the National Governors Association.