Washington Outlook

Public Education Debated by Bush and Gore

by Ed Somers
October 9, 2000

As predicted, the first presidential debate on October 3 between Vice President Gore and Texas Governor Bush focused on domestic issues such as Medicare and Social Security, tax cuts and prescription drug coverage.

The issue of public education, a major transition priority for the Conference of Mayors, did receive a fair amount of discussion, with each candidate offering different plans in Boston during the first of three nationally televised debates. There was much debate on the specifics of each candidate"s proposals, specifically on the issue of how much testing each would require and whether that testing would be mandatory. Gov. Bush outlined his plan beginning with changing Head Start into a reading program.

"Two is to say that if you want to access reading money, you can do so because the goal is for every single child to learn to read. There must be K-2 diagnostic tools, teacher training money available," Bush said

"Three, we"ve got to consolidate federal programs to free districts, to free the schools to encourage innovators... to let schools reach out beyond the confines of the current structure to recruit — teach-for-the-children-type teachers," Bush added.

In his final point, Bush said, "Four, we"re going to say, if you receive federal money, measure third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, and show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. And, if so, there will be a bonus plan and, and — but if not, instead of continuing to subsidize failure, the money will go to the parent so the parent can choose a different public school. Federal money attributed to the child will go to the parent for a public school or a charter school or a tutorial or a Catholic school."

Vice President Gore highlighted his agenda which supports federal school construction aid, grants to hire new teachers to reduce class size, assistance for teacher training, greater accountability, and universal pre-school.

"I'm in favor of testing as a way of measuring performance, every school, every school district, have every state test the children, " Gore said.

"I've also proposed voluntary national tests in the fourth grade and eighth grade, and a form of testing that the governor has not endorsed. I think that all new teachers ought to be tested, including in the subjects that they teach. We"ve got to recruit 100,000 new teachers, and I have budgeted for that," Gore added. Gore also said, "We"ve got to reduce the class size so that the student who walks in has more one-on-one time with the teacher." The Vice President stated his support for charter schools, but opposed vouchers which he said would take resources away from public schools.

The other city program which did receive some discussion was the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which Gov. Bush said he would fully fund, with Vice President Gore replying in agreement.

Conference priorities such as crime reduction and illegal drugs, transportation and congestion, housing and economic development, and a national rails policy for the 21st century were not raised in the first debate.

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