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Gore Emphasizes Education Agenda in Speech at Howard University

Politics: Vice president also says at predominantly black college that he'll seek an end to racial profiling.


WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore capped a weeklong focus on his education agenda Friday as he explained why he thinks the federal government should spend more for public education.

Addressing more than 1,500 boisterous college Democrats at the predominantly black Howard University, Gore renewed his pledge to make education his "No. 1 priority" as president if elected Nov. 7.

The vice president also touted his plan to make most college tuition tax-deductible, saying that too many young people now graduate from college "with the equivalent of a home mortgage without a home." About 70% of Howard's students receive some form of financial aid, according to a university official.

Gore opened his remarks by calling for an end to racial profiling, as he called for a moment of silence to honor a black student who was shot to death recently by a police officer. The circumstances of the shooting are still being investigated.

Although the police officer is black, the incident has caused a furor in Washington and the surrounding suburbs.

After the moment of silence, Gore called the death of Prince Jones "a great loss" but said nothing about the police officer.

Noting that the case was "an ongoing legal matter" that precluded him from speaking directly about it, Gore nevertheless added: "The whole practice of racial profiling must come to an end."

On Friday evening, Gore continued to make his appeal to African American voters, speaking at a reception of African American appointees in the Clinton administration. Listing the Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and other positions filled by blacks, Gore said to the crowd of several hundred in a Washington hotel ballroom: "In many previous administrations, they wouldn't have needed a room this big to hold an event like this. Know what I'm saying?"

Gore said that during the Clinton administration there had been 53 African American judges appointed to the federal bench, "and not a Clarence Thomas among them." That reference to the conservative Supreme Court justice brought shouts of "Go, Al!"

He also made a pitch for affirmative action: "When I hear the other side say affirmative action is no longer necessary, please, give me a break."

The other side also addressed African American concerns Friday. Republican nominee George W. Bush, speaking in Albuquerque, discussed what he would do to help the black community.

"I know the current wisdom, 'Well, he's a Republican, a white guy Republican, and therefore he has no chance to get the African American vote.' You know they may be right, but that's not going to stop me," Bush said. "So you'll find me in neighborhoods that Republicans normally don't go to."

Bush also pledged to "include people from all walks of life in a potential administration." He also singled out two African Americans who have supported him, saying he is comforted by the endorsement of retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell. He also added that it is "comforting that Miss Condoleezza Rice is my top foreign policy advisor."

For Gore, education was the other main topic of the day, and during his speech at Howard the vice president cited a number of his goals, such as funding 100,000 new teachers, imposing new performance standards for teachers and expanding financial assistance to students.

To help needy families with college tuition, Gore would allow qualified families to claim a 28% tax credit or deduct up to $10,000 a year from their taxes for tuition and fees.

Gore specifically is proposing using $115 billion of the federal budget surplus to create an "Education Reform Trust Fund" to help build new schools and modernize existing public schools.

The fund also would allow for school modernization bonds that enable states and communities to borrow interest-free, thus eliminating the need to raise property taxes.

Such bonds are being met with growing opposition nationwide because of the shrinking number of voters who have young children and support such bonds, Gore noted.

That pool of voters, he said, is at an all-time low, while older Americans without children at home--those most likely to be unsympathetic to school-financing bonds--are at an all-time high.

As a result, Gore added, passing such bonds represents "a historic challenge," one that he said can be met by his agenda.

Currently, the average public school is 42 years old, with 3.5 million children every day in schools that need major repairs or outright replacement, according to the Department of Education.

Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, spent part of Friday in New York with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is campaigning hard for the Jewish vote as she runs for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats.

Supporters usually introduce candidates, but in this case Clinton introduced Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, to students and parents of the Mark Twain School for Gifted & Talented. In return for top billing, Lieberman was blunt about the predominantly Jewish area's interests.

"Hillary Rodham Clinton as a U.S. senator will be a strong, strong supporter of Israel," he said.


Times staff writer Dana Calvo contributed to this story.

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