Bush turns to education issues

Tuesday, August 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN – George W. Bush, seeking to regain the offensive in the presidential campaign, on Monday lashed out at his Democratic foe about education, charging that Al Gore is "stuck in the past" when it comes to what the Republican called the biggest issue in the race.

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"The vice president has little accountability in his [education] plan," the GOP nominee said. "His plan is status quo.

"How can you hold people accountable if you say you only have to test – if you so choose – in the fourth and eighth grade?" he asked at a news conference where he announced that he soon will have "education leaders for Bush" committees in all 50 states.

"Al Gore is well-intentioned. He's just caught in the past," the Texas governor said.

Mr. Bush said his education reform plan "ensures schools are held responsible for their results through accountability measures such as state testing, which would be based on a state's curriculum for every student, every year and by school-by-school report cards containing test data."

A spokesman for Mr. Gore defended the vice president's plan and faulted Mr. Bush's proposal.

"It does nothing to provide universal pre-school, does nothing to reduce class size and does nothing to help communities to rebuild crumbling schools," Jano Cabrera said.

He said Mr. Bush's attack on the vice president was an effort by the Republican to "deflect attention from the fact that he offers a limited education plan and is currently scrambling to develop a prescription drug plan in the final two months of the presidential campaign."

Mr. Bush told reporters that he will offer a detailed proposal for prescription drug coverage next week. He said he wanted to focus this week on what he sees as the top priority in the race – education.

The governor touted his education proposal, which would allow states to opt out of federal regulation "in return for a greater level of accountability in closing the achievement gap."

The GOP nominee also said that his plan gives parents choices when public schools "don't work and won't change."

Under his plan, parents of a disadvantaged student could transfer their child to another public school or use federal funding for charter schools, private schools or for hiring tutors.

Mr. Gore opposes using public school funding for private schools.

"My top priority as president will be better schools in every neighborhood," Mr. Bush said in a satellite speech to the B'nai B'rith convention in Washington earlier Monday.

"Here's what I believe, that every child of every background, of every accent, must have a chance to learn and excel and rise in the world," he said.

Despite his efforts to focus on education, Mr. Bush was hounded Monday by questions about prescription drug coverage for elderly citizens and about his tax cut plan.

A group of Texas Democratic legislators who are part of "Texans for Truth" called a news conference to charge that Mr. Bush's 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut package could endanger federal health care programs "without providing any meaningful tax relief to America's working families."

Mr. Bush repeatedly has defended his tax cut measure, although he acknowledged last week that he had not done a good job of selling his proposal to the American people.

At his news conference, Mr. Bush also said he looks forward to debating Mr. Gore three times during the fall and will be prepared to finish his term as governor if he loses the election.