Dukakis Versus Bennett--Sort of
Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts last week made a Presidential campaign swing through California speaking on education issues, but in his major speech generally avoided committing himself to any specific proposals for improving schools.
The rival campaign of Vice President George Bush responded by dispatching Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to California in an apparent attempt to steal the limelight from the Governor.
Mr. Bennett cancelled a scheduled speech in West Point, N.Y., to make the trip, which he said was paid for by the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign organization in California.
On the Offensive
Governor Dukakis gave his first major address on education since the Democratic national convention before an audience of students and employees of the Oakland Public Schools, who were gathered Sept. 1 at a local convention center for a "back to school" day.
"No issue, no concern, no institution means more to me than education," the Governor was scheduled to say, according to his prepared remarks.
The "foundations" on which his education agenda stands, he said, are the four planks of "early-childhood education; good teaching; ending illiteracy; [and] college opportunity."
He repeated his calls for a National Teaching Excellence Fund, to provide financial aid for the training of prospective teachers, and for the revival of the national teacher corps as a "real domestic Peace Corps for teaching" in rural and inner-city schools.
In his speech, the Democratic candidate took measured aim at the Reagan Administration's record on education, saying that voters must choose between "those who believe
that good education should be the property of a few, and those who believe that it is the birthright of every American, no matter who they are or where they come from or what the color of their skin."
The Governor said that while the Administration had eliminated remedial-education programs for 500,000 disadvantaged youngsters, "we've started an essential-skills program in my state that is aimed at helping every child in our state get a good start in life and a fair shot at the American dream."
"While they've led an assault on college loans and grants," he added, "we've quadrupled our scholarship assistance to low- and middle-income students."
Repeating a question that has become one of the Democrats' favorite campaign themes, he asked: "And where was George when all this was going on? Where was the man who now says he wants to be education President? He was playing hooky. He was nowhere to be found."
Mr. Bush's commitment to education, he suggested, is only "an election-year strategy."
Bennett's Preemptive Attack
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennett spent the morning in San Francisco meeting with journalists across the Bay from the site of Gov. Dukakis's later address, then flew to Los Angeles for a brief press conference.
In Los Angeles, Mr. Bennett belittled Mr. Dukakis's record in education as "undistinguished."
"We do not have in Mike Dukakis an 'education Governor,"' he declared.
He also defended the Administration's education efforts, saying, "I'll put our record against his record any time."
Seizing one of the major themes of his own tenure as Secretary, Mr. Bennett noted that the Massachusetts governor had recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents in Boston and Worcester the option of enrolling their children in nearby suburban districts at state expense.
The Republican and Democratic candidates for President, he said, also differ on issues such as "accountability," the purpose of bilingual education, and the desirability of requiring teachers to lead their classes in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Governor Dukakis's most recent education proposals, he added, amount to "bland bromides."
"I'll tell you one thing an education is supposed to do: it's supposed to help someone distinguish and determine when a person is talking rot," he said.
"And I can tell you, Governor Dukakis is talking rot about education," he said. "There's nothing there."
Correspondent Richard Colvin contributed to this report.