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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Says Gore Behind an 'Education Recession'

Campaign: Schools need accountability, not money, Republican candidate contends. He uses issue to disparage vice president's economic proposals.

September 26, 2000|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Texas Gov. George W. Bush accused the Clinton administration Monday of presiding over an "education recession" that could threaten the health of the nation, economically and otherwise.

Painting a grim vision of a country that is still enjoying the longest era of prosperity in its history, Bush talked of "warning signs in America" that the nation's economic future is in peril.

The farm economy is stagnant, the Republican presidential nominee said. Energy prices are high. The nation is reliant on foreign oil. And "the most significant warning sign is the achievement gap in our public schools, a gap between rich and poor and Anglo and minority," he said.

"Since 1992, even as education spending has risen," Bush warned here at an elementary school outside of Portland, "reading scores have fallen and then . . . remained stagnant. And this is a leading indicator of troubles to come."

Bush's dire picture Monday was designed to cast doubt on one of the strongest factors in favor of Democratic rival Al Gore--that after eight years of increasing economic well-being, most voters feel financially secure.

And Bush placed the blame for what he described as the uncertain future squarely on "Vice President Gore's administration" in the first salvo of what promises to be a week of sniping at his opponent.

After talking about education during a three-day West Coast swing, Bush plans to highlight how he believes Gore's other proposals would threaten the nation's prosperity during a trip to the Midwest at the end of the week.

Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell derided Bush's bleak vision of America's economic future as "making no sense" and argued that the education recession he sees simply does not exist.

"SAT scores are at their highest level since 1969," Spell said. "We've seen gains for the first time ever in fourth-, eighth- and 12th-grade reading. We've seen significant improvement among all groups--including African Americans--in math and science."

Next to his $1.3-trillion, 10-year tax cut plan, education has been the greatest emphasis of Bush's campaign for the White House. To date, he has stumped at more than 100 schools and colleges, pushing his 10-year, $47.6-billion education reform plan.

In the past, he has spent most of his time talking about how he plans to reform the American education system. With the election just six weeks away and the polls tightening, he has turned his focus to placing blame.

"Since taking office, the vice president has really not led on this issue," Bush charged. "He came into office promising change and instead defended the status quo and has resisted real reform."

Bush charged that, in America's highest-poverty schools, 68% of fourth-graders cannot read a simple children's book. U.S. high school seniors placed 19th out of 21 industrialized nations in math, he said, quoting from a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Clinton and Gore "call for new spending without real reform or accountability," Bush said. "It's like pumping gas into a flooded system."

Bush also touted his $5-billion plan to make sure all children can read by third grade. It would provide money to states to diagnose reading skills and problems for kids in kindergarten and first grade. It would also pay to train teachers in reading instruction.

The Republican argues that schools must test reading and math skills annually in grades three through eight. And he says parents should be able to pull their children from schools that accept federal money but do not improve. Such parents could use federal vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

"Children who can never master reading can never master learning," Bush said. "As uneducated adults, they face a life of struggle on the fringes of society. Some will turn to crime and end up in prison."

Gore's education plan calls for spending $115 billion over 10 years for school reforms, including $50 billion for universal preschool and $25 billion for school construction and modernization.

The vice president would, if elected, implement teacher testing and require low-performers to improve or risk losing their jobs. He would push to hire 100,000 teachers to reduce class size.

Gore would provide failing public schools with more resources; if they failed anyway after three years, the schools would be shut down and reopened with new teachers and administrators.

"Bush says he wants to focus on education, but his budget says otherwise," said Ron Klain, a senior Gore advisor. "Bush claims that education is a priority, but his tax cut uses up all the surplus that could be used to invest in education."

Monday evening, Bush switched topics at an airport rally in Spokane, Wash., pledging firmly that he would not breach a series of dams on the Snake River. Environmentalists say the dams harm the salmon population while farmers and other business interests say the dams are necessary for water and electricity.

Bush complained Monday about Gore's call for more study of the matter.

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