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Focus on Education

By Maria Wang

The two major candidates for the upcoming presidential election, Al Gore and George Bush, promise to reform the current system of education. Many of their goals and methods sound similar; both propose more funding for hiring new teachers and for the construction and modernization of schools. Both talk about increasing educational resources and opportunities. The only significant difference between the plans concerns the issues of federalism and school vouchers.

Gore supports extensive federal involvement in education. He calls for the creation of national standards to measure progress in reading and math in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. Gore also plans to test all new teachers based on a national standard.

Bush, on the other hand, believes that standards and tests should be developed by the states themselves. He wants to restore local control over schools by combining more than 60 federal programs into five, flexible categories. Despite his disdain for big government, Bush advocates requiring state participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal program that tests a random sampling of students every two to four years.

The Bush plan supports vouchers as a solution to the degradation of public schools. Under Bush's proposal, failing schools will be given a finite period to improve; if they fail to do so, children of low-income parents will have the option of using their share of federal funds to pay for private schooling.

Gore rejects the concept of vouchers and instead wants to increase choice and competition within the public school system by tripling the number of charter schools. Rather than deny funding to lagging schools, Gore’s solution is to close them down and then reopen them under new administrations. Principals and teachers would be offered incentives of up to $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. Students in failing schools would have the option of after-school instruction or a transfer to another public school.

Financing College

Gore hopes to increase college attendance and graduation rates by making college tuition tax-deductible, giving tax credits and deductions for college savings and keeping interest rates low for student loans. This plan could cost as much as $36 billion. Gore also proposed a National Tuition Savings program which allows families to invest their money in tax-free accounts.

Bush wants to establish a $1.5 billion "College Challenge" grant in which federal funding will cover one-third of state costs to create a merit scholarship program. He also hopes to grant complete tax-exemption to all qualified prepaid and tuition savings plans and extend coverage to independent prepaid tuition plans. The IRS would have to enable families to invest tax-free in them. Bush also proposes to increase the maximum federal Pell Grant available for undergraduate freshmen from $3,300 to $5,100.