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Education Debate

September 20, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Kids are back in school, and so are the presidential candidates. For both Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush, education is at the very top of their campaign agenda.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Education may be a local responsibility, but I believe it also has to be our number-one national priority. We can’t stop until every school in America is a good place to get a good education.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country; to every man and woman, a chance to succeed; to every child, a chance to learn.

RAY SUAREZ: Both candidates have stumped in classrooms and schools across the country. Bush says he’s been to more than 100, and Gore spent last week bouncing across Ohio in a school bus. Both men are courting suburban and working class voters who say they are frustrated with the country’s public education systems and are worried about whether students are being prepared to compete in today’s high-tech economy.


RAY SUAREZ: The candidates have offered specific proposals that differ in dollars, programs and philosophy. Gore has proposed spending $170 billion over 10 years on elementary and secondary education programs, and tax credits for college tuition and after-school care. Bush’s plan calls for spending $47 billion over the same 10 years, devoting the money to literacy programs, college scholarships and grants. It rewards states for improving achievement based on testing. The Texas governor also touts college savings accounts and deductions. And unlike most of his Republican counterparts, Bush wants to spend more money on things like early education.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s a federal role in reading. I want the federal government to spend reading money, to set aside $5 billion over five years for states and local jurisdictions to access money for reading. You’ve got to make sure children get up to the starting line as many children at the same spot, and that is why early childhood development is such an important part of the future of the country. It’s an incredibly important initiative.

RAY SUAREZ: On testing, both Gore and Bush agree that standardized tests should be used to measure school performance and accountability. And both candidates say the federal government should step in if local school districts cannot keep their schools from failing. But they disagree on what exactly the federal role would be.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Governor Bush and I agree education is a local responsibility, that parents, teachers, and local schools should make the decisions. But local control of education is no excuse to pass the buck on education. And I sure don’t believe we should spend all those bucks… the entire federal surplus on a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, which would leave local schools under-funded and too often helpless to solve their problems.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe that measurement is the cornerstone to reform and measurement is the cornerstone to making sure children learn. And I am going to ask the Congress to pass a bill that says in return for receipt of federal money and in return for flexibility, for the federal dollars you receive, you must show us… you must show the nation, you must show the people in your area whether or not children can read, write, and add and subtract. If they can, there will be rewards. If they can’t, there must be a final moment of consequence in order for the accountability systems to mean anything. Instead of continuing to subsidize mediocrity after a reasonable period of time, then parents will have a different choice with the federal money.

TEACHER: And you have diameters

RAY SUAREZ: Bush would use federal money for vouchers to help parents pay for private schools. Gore opposes vouchers. Both agree on charter schools, independent schools started with public financing. Bush wants $3 billion in loan guarantees to establish or improve 2000 charter schools over the next two years. Gore would use federal money to triple the number of charter schools by 2005. Bush would put more money in the pot for teacher training and retirement. He also wants to consolidate federal funding for teachers. Gore outlined his proposal to improve the quality of teachers during a speech at an Ohio school.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I want 100,000 new teachers to reduce class size. And I want to test all teachers. I want a qualified teacher in every classroom. I believe that it is time to start treating teachers like the professionals that they are and reduce class size and modernize our facilities.

RAY SUAREZ: Each candidate insists his plan is the right one for turning around America’s schools.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We need to put the focus on improving our schools, not just in a gradual way, but we need dramatic revolutionary progress. We need to help each and every person in this country unlock the limitless potential that lies within through access to the best education available anywhere on earth.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: If you can’t read, you can’t learn. If you can’t learn, it would be impossible to live the American dream.