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Bradley unveils $8 billion school reform plan

February 9, 2000
Web posted at: 5:48 p.m. EST (2248 GMT)

ST. LOUIS (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley Wednesday proposed spending $8 billion more for disadvantaged student programs and tripling the federal allotment for charter schools.

His rival, Vice President Al Gore, also focused on education, pledging to expand a tax-free, inflation-indexed savings plans enabling parents to set aside money for their childrens' college education.

In a major policy speech on his education initiatives, Bradley charged that Gore wants to spend more new money on defense than on improving the nation's schools.

He also criticized Gore's record on making education a top priority.

"On Al Gore's watch, children's test scores stayed flat," the former senator from New Jersey said. "On Al Gore's watch, the administration won funding for new teachers, but didn't include strict provisions to make sure those teachers were highly qualified."

Gore, campaigning in Michigan, a state with a March 11 Democratic Caucus, said that Bradley is a Johnny-come-lately on school reform.

"Fourteen months have passed in this presidential campaign and three states have had elections and only today for the first time in 14 months has Mr. Bradley made the first speech on education," he said at a center for children with learning disabilities in the Detroit suburb of Southfield.

Gore, who earlier had outlined other education initiatives, said his proposal to expand the National Tuition Savings Plan would be portable, allowing parents to use the pre-paid tuition money in the state of their choice.

Bradley spoke at University High School in St. Louis during a campaign swing through one of 16 states holding primaries or caucuses March 7 -- a night the candidate has targeted as a make or break point in his campaign.

Missouri also is the state where he grew up.

"All campaigns are about the future and there's nothing more critical to our future than lifting up our education system," Bradley said. "To do that, I am proposing a few simple but big ideas.

"All teachers must be qualified. All schools should be held accountable for making sure their children learn. All parents should have information about their child's school. And all students must have the option of leaving a poor public school for a better public school."

Specifically, he proposed doubling the federal funding of the Title I program for disadvantaged students from $8 billion to $16 billion annually.

"Right now, we give the states $8 billion a year to increase student achievement" in these programs, "but ask for almost nothing in return -- and do not even bother to find out if students are achieving," he said.

"That is unacceptable and if I'm president I will end that," Bradley said.

He also recommended that funding be increased from $145 million to $500 million for so-called charter schools that empower parents to help develop a curriculum, reducing the school board's dominance and bureaucratic red tape.

At a news conference, Bradley said he knows of no other issue more discussed and of interest to voters than education, and that he intends to focus heavily on schools between now and March 7.

Asked for his reaction to Steve Forbe's withdrawal from the Republican primaries Wednesday, he said, "I have other things to worry about ... It just wasn't there for him this year."

But when asked if John McCain's sudden emergence in the GOP race was one of "the other things" he's worried about, Bradley said McCain's strength actually enhances his prospects because he can stand up to McCain better than Gore on the issue of campaign finance reform.

"If he's the nominee," Bradley said of McCain, "he'll be relentless in attacking the 1996 fundraising" of the Clinton-Gore ticket, which Gore had difficulty defending in the months after their re-election.

 
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Wednesday, February 9, 2000


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