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Dole: Restore public schools to 'greatness'

September 22, 1999
Web posted at: 4:34 p.m. EDT (2034 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole called for parent-approved locker and backpack searches and drug testing of students Wednesday as she outlined her plan for "restoring our public schools to greatness."

"For drugs and weapons, I say: there will be no place to hide," she said.

Dole, a former student teacher, also proposed a new tax credit to encourage private support for public and private schools, and she borrowed proposals from the congressional Republicans for "education savings accounts" and for freeing up federal education funds from federal mandates.

"As president, I will allow states and local school districts to choose how most federal money is spent, as long as they set, measure, and reach goals for student achievement. At last, schools will be responsible for student performance, not paperwork," Dole said.

Dole outlined her proposals at Melrose High School outside Boston, where she was a student teacher in 11th grade history for the 1959-60 academic year, when she was also earning a master's degree at Harvard.

Her speech was framed by the theme of local control. She cited an Ohio survey that found that local schools and principals fill out an average of 182 forms a year to meet federal requirements.

The federal government has become a truly intrusive regulatory presence, sapping state authority, local control and parental responsibility," she said. "Ever hour spent on complying with regulations is time not spent helping teachers and students. Every dollar spent on overhead is a dollar that does not reach the classroom."

As an example of the local control she is advocating, Dole cited her Melrose High School tenure when she taught her students about the Boston police strike of 1919. She said she went through dusty Police Department archives to find someone who was involved in the strike so she could interview them for her students.

"I certainly didn't choose those particular procedures because they were mandated by Washington, D.C., but because I thought it brought history to life for my students," she said.

She repeatedly referred to a stack of papers beside the lectern that she said were federal education regulations that "afflict" schools, including a 600-plus-page copy of what she called "the Clinton-Gore" Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization bill

"There is nothing more fundamental to the success of our democracy than the education of our children in a robust public education systems. But ladies and gentlemen, robust doesn't have to be hefty," Dole said.

Dole said her education policy would be focused on the three guiding principles: returning control to state and local school districts, restoring discipline in the classroom and respect for teachers and reinforcing a parent's control of their child's education. She called them her " three R's."

"I'm focused on performance, not paperwork, on results, not regulations and restrictions," she said.

Dole also said teachers should receive merit pay, saying merit pay would help attract new teachers. A growing student population combined with teacher retirements will lead schools to recruit some 2 million new teachers over the next decade, she said.

"Let's give mid-career professionals, academics, and our best college graduates a clearer path to working and excelling in our public schools," Dole said.

But Dole did not specify exactly how she would use federal dollars to get failing schools up to par, which differs from the approach taken by the GOP presidential front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. In a speech earlier this month, Bush detailed a formula for measuring student performance, rewarding good schools, and stripping bad schools of federal support.

Other proposals by Dole included:

-- A $1,000 per-year federal tax credit for individuals who give to educational foundations that aid low-income students in public and private schools through grade 12.

-- Posting school-by-school results on the Internet to foster competition and give parents a choice.

-- Increasing tax-free contribution limits for education savings accounts to $3,000 a year to help middle- and low-income parents pay for a child's private school tuition or college education. President Bill Clinton vetoed a similar provision last year.

-- Requiring that students' disciplinary records follow them to every school they attend, in order to "protect the entire school community and make sure that troubled students get the help they need."

-- Allowing teachers and administrators, with parental consent, to search student lockers and bookbags for weapons and drugs.

-- Providing "alternative school settings" for disruptive students who "need a different environment in which to learn."


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Wednesday, September 22, 1999

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