WASHINGTON — Marking the first anniversary of the shooting deaths at Columbine High School, President Clinton announced $120 million in new federal grants Saturday to place more police officers in schools and help even the youngest kids cope with their problems.
"In our national struggle against youth violence we must not fail our children; our future depends on it," the president said in his weekly radio address.
Clinton announced that he and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will host a White House conference on teenagers on May 2 to "talk through the challenges of raising responsible children."
Parents, teens, teachers, youth workers and others will discuss research that indicates the preteen years set patterns for behavior and success in adulthood. Other subjects will include the risks, challenges and anxieties faced by young people today and what can be done to avoid dangerous or risky behavior.
"We need to talk about safety and security in every house in America," Clinton said.
Republican critics said the federal government is a clumsy middleman in trying to cope with problems that should be addressed locally. They cast doubt on whether the teen conference would accomplish anything, accused Clinton of ignoring media violence and said he should support stiff jail sentences for anyone carrying a firearm in a violent or drug-related crime.
Clinton announced $40 million in grants for 23 school districts that he said have found successful, comprehensive approaches to help troubled young people.
"These districts are bringing school nurses and counselors together to respond to warning signs like depression or bullying," Clinton said. "They are improving classroom security and expanding after-school and mentoring programs."
Clinton also unveiled the $60-million fifth round of funding for "COPS in School," a Justice Department program that helps pay the costs of placing police officers in schools to help make them safer for students and teachers. The money will be used to provide 452 officers in schools in more than 220 communities.
"Already, it has placed 2,200 officers in more than 1,000 communities across our nation, where they are heightening school safety as well as coaching sports and acting as mentors and mediators for kids in need," Clinton said.
Finally, Clinton said the Education Department has earmarked $20 million for local proposals to create or expand counseling programs for elementary school children. "We have seen all too clearly that even our youngest children need our help," he said.
"As we prepare next week to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School, our thoughts turn to the safety of our communities, schools and children," Clinton said. "All of us--parents, schools, communities and government--share responsibility to keep kids safe."
On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., fatally shot 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves.
Clinton's proposals drew instant comment from Republicans.
"The White House conference on teenagers is sure to draw national headlines and attention, but unlikely to add new light to these troubling questions," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference. He said the solutions will be found around America's kitchen tables, "not from Washington or from posturing politicians."
Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson accused Clinton of having "shamelessly politicized and taken advantage of national tragedies" while ignoring the films, television programs and music videos Nicholson said are responsible for creating "a culture of death" among youthful Americans. Instead of using his office to combat the entertainment industry, Clinton has chosen to use the industry as a source of campaign cash, he said.