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Bradley, Gore Joust Over Schools

February 9, 2000

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Democratic rivals Al Gore and Bill Bradley offered dueling education packages Wednesday, with Bradley proposing help for distressed public schools and arguing that Gore’s tenure in office has seen ``educational malpractice″ in many schools.

Gore said Bradley was coming to the issue too late and proposing too little. He touted his own plan to help parents who set aside money to send their children to college.

With polls showing Democratic primary voters put education at the top of their priority list, both sought the high ground.

``Quality education is a fundamental Democratic principle and it is one of the crucial issues at stake in this election,″ Bradley said.

His proposal would double federal money for distressed schools, to $16 billion, and also allow parents to choose different public schools if their own don’t measure up.

It also would set aside $500 million for charter schools, boost standards for teachers and create ``report cards″ for schools to help parents decide where to send their youngsters.

While Bradley announced his plan at a St. Louis school, Gore headed to a child development center in Michigan to propose an expansion of the savings program that allows parents to set aside money for college.

Those parents can currently put money in an education savings account, deferring taxes as long as the money is used for college expenses. Gore would index those accounts to take out the effects of inflation and also would ensure the money could be used across state lines.

At the child care center, Gore squeezed into a tiny seat near the pet turtles, pet cockroach and pet worms and snacked on carrots and broccoli with preschoolers.

But there was a cutting edge to his comments about his opponent.

``Fourteen months have passed in this presidential campaign and three states have had elections now, and only today, for the first time in 14 months has Senator Bradley made his first speech on education.″

``He is late to the issue, having spent the money and now, based upon what I’ve heard, he still does not propose universal preschool or new help for college tuition,″ Gore said.

But Bradley argued he was offering the most sweeping education plan of the campaign, and he dismissed Gore’s claim of focusing on schools.

``Vice President Gore says education is his top priority, but he spends more new money on defense than on improving schools,″ he said. ``Parents know the last seven years have been long on promises and short on progress.″

The biggest proposal Bradley offered would be to build up some of the worst schools. While the bulk of school funding is state and local, Bradley aides said that up to 30 percent of the money for schools in low-income areas comes from the federal government.

At the same time, those schools would be graded on their performance, and parents would be allowed to move their children from schools not performing well.

``Children who attend failing schools must not be trapped there,″ Bradley said. ``We have separate but unequal in the quality of education in America.″

Bradley also said he would boost standards for teachers, requiring them to hold a college major in the area they teach, or pass a competency test.

``During the past seven years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about education, but too often the rhetoric hasn’t been backed up by action,″ said Bradley. ``In far too many schools in this country, there is what amounts to educational malpractice.″

There’s plenty of room for controversy in Bradley’s package, because he said he would demand more of the nation’s teachers, pointing to studies saying thousands are unqualified.

``Warm bodies are just not good enough for our children,″ said Bradley. ``I will set aside money for schools to give teachers signing bonuses and merit bonuses for outstanding performances.″

Bradley said his proposal would reshape federal education policy by not only increasing funding but demanding that schools demonstrate performance.

``To strengthen public education, we must hold failing schools accountable and give parents some real choices,″ he said.

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