Bradley unveils $8 billion school reform plan
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
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.