Bush Hears Sales Pitch; Leaders Make City's Case for USS Kennedy's Importance but His Focus Is on Education, Not Mayport's Aircraft Carrier

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK, The Times-Union

*******************CORRECTION January 17, 2005

Jacksonville firefighter Eric Mitchell discussed education with President Bush on Friday at a program at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. Due to a photographer's error, his last name was incorrect in a photo caption on Page A-11 Saturday.

***************

The neediest college students would receive more grant money over the next five years in a plan President Bush announced Friday during a visit to Florida Community College at Jacksonville's South Campus.

The president said he will ask Congress to boost the maximum amount of the federal Pell Grant program from $4,050 to $4,550 over five years. It would mark the first increase in the grant program in three years. His plan also includes giving up to $1,000 in extra grant money to low-income students who take a rigorous high school curriculum, and providing Pell Grants year-round to college students who wish to graduate early.

The increase is lower than the $5,100 Bush proposed for first-year college students during the 2000 presidential campaign.

"We want to raise the standards and provide incentives for people to aim high in life, and that's what the Pell Grants can be used for," Bush said.

Bush also proposed eliminating the program's $4.3 billion deficit. Congress allots money to the program each year, but it's often not enough for the number of students eligible for money. The government amassed a deficit by awarding grants beyond what Congress budgeted.

The American Council on Education hailed the plan as "extraordinary news." David Ward, president of the council, said treating Pell Grants as an entitlement program would ensure every student who qualifies for the grant receives it. That would end the program's financial uncertainty from year to year.

The president's plan should receive bipartisan support, according to Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. She said the proposal could encourage more students to attend college.

"This helps, and it comes at a time when families could use some help," Finney said. "We're still seeing tuition levels well above increases in family income. If he [Bush] can find the money, it's a very good move for low- and middle-income families."

But Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the plan was a good start, but not enough.

"President Bush needs to do much more than put $500 on the table if he is serious about making college affordable for all Americans, and that will take a fundamental reshaping of the president's priorities," Miller said in a statement.

Increasing the amount of the Pell Grant over five years would cost $15 billion. …