Bush Focuses on Education

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — George W. Bush, opening a three-day West Coast swing, is suggesting the nation is in the grips of an ``education recession'' even as it enjoys good economic times.

Backed by Republican Party ads, the Texas governor planned to focus on his education proposals at stops in Oregon, Washington and California.

``I believe every child can learn and I refuse to accept excuses when they don't and so should our society,'' Bush said in an interview broadcast Monday on ABC's ``Good Morning America.'' He stressed accountability for schools, while criticizing Democratic rival Al Gore's plan for government-financed preschool for children ages 3 to 6: ``He doesn't have nearly enough money to make good on that promise.''

While polls suggest Gore has a comfortable lead in California, Bush strategists see Oregon and Washington as in play.

Timed to coincide with Bush's trip is a new Republican National Committee ad citing low test scores, particularly in math and science. It implies that part of the blame rests with the Clinton-Gore administration. It also praises Bush's record in Texas.

The ``education recession'' ad will run in 17 states beginning later in the week, said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

``Reading and math scores nationally have been declining for past ten years,'' Fleischer said. ``There's a real worry in America about whether children will be safe in school.''

Bush's trip includes an appearance Tuesday night on CNN's ``Larry King Live.'' He began his day Monday on CBS' ``The Early Show,'' where he attacked President Clinton's decision to release oil from the nation's strategic oil reserve in an effort to keep fuel prices down.

``The idea of taking reserves out of the strategic reserve is a bad idea because it could create a long-term security issue for the United States of America,'' Bush said. ``And it's an idea that I think is spurred by short-term political gains.''

Gore, speaking on NBC, rejected such criticism, saying, ``I will not go along with the apologists for big oil and support an agenda that's all big oil, for big oil and by big oil.''

For education, Bush has proposed a $47 billion, 10-year plan that would boost spending on literacy programs, college scholarships and give extra money to states that improve pupil achievement.

He also wants vouchers that poor families could use for private-school tuition — a proposal Gore opposes.

``My plan will renew parents' faith in the schools their children attend. I will insist on accountability, local control and the importance of teaching every child to read,'' Bush said in a statement.

Bush was traveling first on Monday to an elementary school in Beaverton, Ore., followed by a rally in Spokane, Wash.

The GOP camp, meanwhile, welcomed new polls suggesting that Bush has reclaimed some of his post-convention losses.

``The race now is virtually neck and neck from everything I can tell. I think it's going to go right down to the wire,'' running mate Dick Cheney said on ``Fox News Sunday.''

Fleischer confirmed that the campaign had sharply cut back advertising in Illinois, a key battleground state, but said it was in response to a decision by Democrats to scale back their own ads, not an admission of defeat.

``We keep an eye on each other's advertising, and that's what you're seeing. ... Illinois is definitely a battleground state. We're going to contest it,'' Fleischer said.

The two campaigns traded fresh accusations over how a videotape of Bush's debate preparations ended up with the Gore camp.

Bush operatives seized upon the Gore campaign's suspension of a junior staffer over the weekend to hurl new accusations at Gore's Nashville, Tenn.-based operation.

``The more the FBI inquires, the more nervous they're getting in Nashville,'' Fleischer said.

The staffer, Michael Doyne, 28, was suspended after he acknowledged boasting in an e-mail message of a ``mole'' planted in Bush's campaign.

Doyne now insists the ``mole'' was a product of his imagination, and Fabiani said campaign officials do not believe any such spy exists.

Gore, speaking with reporters by telephone Sunday, said he doesn't have a clue who sent the tape. But, he added, ``If somebody in the Bush campaign keeps sending confidential internal data to us, we'll keep turning it over to the FBI.''