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SINCE THE 1983 REPORT "A Nation at Risk," a highly critical assessment of American public schools commissioned by the Department of Education under the Reagan administration, educational reform has been a high visibility issue for both Republicans and Democrats. The Democrat-controlled 103rd Congress passed the Clinton administration's "Goals 2000," an act that promotes national standards in core academic disciplines. To Democrats, the federal government can be an effective agent of school reform by providing school districts nationwide financial incentives to embrace standards established by the newly-created National Education Standards and Improvement Council. The predominant Republican view is that "Goals 2000" and other Democratic initiatives amount to federal micromanaging, and that education should remain the province of state and local governments. Some advocate abolishing the Department of Education. Conservatives are also critical of the current federal college loan program, which has traditionally guaranteed student loans made by private banks, on grounds that it is overly bureaucratic and intrusive. Democrats, in response, propose that the federal government make student loans directly. Other Republican proposals include converting all federal school aid into vouchers that parents could spend at any school, public or private, or issuing federal aid strictly through block grants.

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