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Bush speech to unveil training program

Monday, January 19, 2004

WASHINGTON -- President Bush will announce a new initiative in his State of the Union address to give community colleges more money to train American workers -- a proposal that addresses joblessness, a key issue in November's presidential race.

In his national address on Tuesday, Bush plans to unveil at least $120 million in grants, administered by the Labor Department, to enhance work-force training programs at U.S. community colleges, education experts said.

The president is expected to flesh out his proposal during a speech Wednesday at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio -- a key re-election state that Bush has already visited more than a dozen times.

"They are not putting the money into the Department of Education, they're putting it in the Department of Labor -- the signal there is to focus on work-force training activities," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a trade association of 1,800 two- and four-year colleges and universities.

"I guess they think that training and retraining remains essential as we continue to see the erosion of American jobs, especially manufacturing jobs," he said. That is a particular problem in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Job growth is expected to be an important issue leading up to November's presidential election and Bush could be vulnerable. The economy has lost about 2.3 million jobs since he took office, giving him the worst job creation record of any president since Herbert Hoover.

The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in December, the lowest level in 14 months, but only because frustrated jobseekers gave up their searches.

; the government's rate counts only people actively seeking work. Overall, businesses added just 1,000 new American jobs last month, far fewer than economists had expected.

The White House declined to comment on the proposal.

"We'll let the president make his speech on Tuesday," White House spokesman Taylor Gross said Sunday.

The president, who returned to the White House on Sunday morning after spending the weekend at Camp David, had lunch with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Miers, deputy chief of staff for policy, and Karen Hughes, a former White House official and one of Bush's closest advisers who flew in from Texas to help with the speech.

Gross said the president worked on his speech from 2 p.m. to shortly after 4 p.m.

George R. Boggs, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Community Colleges, a group that represents 1,200 community colleges in the United States, said Sunday that the grants would be targeted to work-force training programs in high-demand occupations, such as health care.

"Of course, on the national scheme, it's not a great amount, but it's certainly enough to help some of our colleges develop capacity for these programs, so we would be very supportive of this proposal," Boggs said.


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