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Topic: Bush: Give School Funds to Parents
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Bush: Give School Funds to Parents
Posted: Sep 4, 1999 10:44 AM
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From Washington Post, Friday, September 3, 1999; Page A01.

[See ]

Bush Proposes Giving School Funds to Parents

By William Booth
Staff Writer

Los Angeles, Sept. 2 -- Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush
vowed today that his administration would strip federal funding from
failing public schools "that cheat poor children" and give the money to
parents to pay for tutors or to help transfer their children to other
schools, including private ones.

Although Bush never used the hot-button word "vouchers," the proposal he
outlined today employs some of the elements of one of the most
controversial ideas in American education, and it drew immediate fire from
voucher opponents.

The concept behind vouchers is to allow parents to use their tax dollars to
send their children to private schools, including religious ones. Bush's
voucher program would allow only some students in some failing schools to
use some federal funds.

"In my administration, federal money will no longer flow to failure," the
Texas governor said.

Since he began campaigning for the GOP nomination in June, Bush had avoided
providing detailed policy proposals on major issues, saying that would come
in the fall. Today's back-to-school address marks the beginning of that
process for the front-running Republican -- and he chose an issue that he
has made a top priority in Texas. Moreover, education consistently tops the
list of concerns expressed by the national electorate.

Before a luncheon audience at the Latino Business Expo in downtown Los
Angeles, Bush also said that he would transform the Head Start program,
which serves 840,000 needy preschoolers, from its emphasis on day care into
a literacy program. Finally, Bush endorsed the use of phonics to teach
reading and said "sloppy and trendy" curriculums "focusing on self-esteem
over basic skills" should be abandoned.

Bush's proposals brought an immediate response from Vice President Gore,
who is running for the Democratic nomination. "All the sweet talk in the
world can't hide the fact that George Bush wants to slam the door on the
kids in America's public school system," Gore said. "What little money
would be left for education with his risky Republican tax plan would be
wiped out by his back-door voucher plan."

Bush said the $7.7 billion in federal Title 1 funds, which are earmarked
for disadvantaged schools, would no longer automatically go to those
schools, but would have to be earned. He said each school would test its
students -- using a state exam, not a federal one. Schools that failed to
reach state standards would first be warned, and after three years would
lose Title 1 funds.

Those funds, with other federal moneys, equaling about $1,500 per pupil,
then would be "directly available to parents," Bush said. "This money can
then be used by students for tutoring, for a charter school, for a working
public school in a different district, or for a private school.

"In the best case, these schools will rise to the challenge and regain the
confidence of parents," he said. "In the worst case, we will offer
scholarships to America's neediest children, allowing them to get the
emergency help they should have. In any case, the federal government will
no longer pay schools to cheat poor children."

The $1,500 that would be available to parents under the Bush proposal is
about a quarter of what an average school district spends each year to
educate a child. On average, schools spend about $6,200 per pupil.

Bush praised ongoing reform efforts that are beginning to transform schools
around the country, but he noted the sizable disparity in many states
between the test scores -- and graduation rates -- of whites and
minorities. "It is a scandal of the first order when the average test
scores of African American and Latino students at age 17 are roughly the
same as white 13-year-olds," he said. "More and more, we are divided into
two nations, separate and unequal. One that reads and one that can't. One
that dreams and one that doesn't."

The audience of Latino business executives applauded when Bush said, "We do
not have a
national school board, and we do not need one. A president is not a federal
principal, and I will not be one." But he also said, "When we spend federal
money, I want results -- especially when it comes to disadvantaged

Bush described a more activist role for the federal government in education
than some conservatives embrace. While he endorsed a voucher program, Bush
challenged those in his party who have called for the elimination of the
Education Department by saying that, with a sixth of the U.S. population in
public schools, it is wrong "to give up on public education entirely."

The Bush proposal came under attack from the National School Boards
Association and the American Federation of Teachers, whose president,
Sandra Feldman, said Bush "marshals the rhetoric of reform but demonstrates
a lack of commitment to public education."

Reaction from rival GOP campaigns reflected Bush's effort to thread the
needle between moderate and conservative approaches to school reform. Both
candidates vying to emerge as the mainstream alternative to Bush --
Elizabeth Dole and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) -- were reluctant to criticize
the proposals.

But conservative candidate Steve Forbes wasted little time blasting Bush.
"What the governor has done is effectively tell parents to wait three years
for real school reform. It's the equivalent of saying the check is in the
mail," said Forbes national chairman Kenneth Blackwell.

The part of Bush's proposal that would tie federal funding to test
performance for low-income schools is similar to a plan outlined by
President Clinton last January in his State of the Union address. Clinton
proposed an "Education Accountability Act" that would require states to
"turn around their worst-performing schools or shut them down."

Clinton's plan, like Bush's, would require states to develop tests for
schools receiving Title 1 funds. Under the Clinton plan, which was sent to
Congress but was not acted upon, failure to show improvement on those tests
could lead to a cutoff of Title 1 funds. Unlike Bush's plan, Clinton's
would not send unused Title 1 money to parents.

Education Secretary Richard W. Riley commended the part of Bush's proposal
he said would "start down the road of accountability" for low-income
schools but criticized the plan's "dangerous detour into vouchers."

Campaigning today in Cleveland, where a state-funded voucher program is the
subject of a court debate, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley
said, "I don't think school vouchers are the answer to the problems of
public education." Bradley said such programs have problems, "not the least
of which are issues of church and state."

Most of the voucher schools have religious affiliations, and opponents say
the program violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Staff researcher Ben White in Washington contributed to this report.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)

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