After Victory, Speculations About 'Education President'
Washington--In the wake of last week's election, education observers are pondering whether President-elect George Bush will follow through on his campaign pledge to become the "education president" by making children and the schools a major priority of his Administration.
For former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who advised the Bush campaign on education issues, the answer is clear.
"No president has ever before said that, committed himself to do that, at the beginning of his term," he said. "It is unprecedented to push education so high up as a Presidential priority."
"I think you can expect a lot of attention and concern about the children of America, all the way from child care and day care through Head Start and American educa,4ltion in general," added former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, another Bush adviser.
But others were less sure that Mr. Bush's campaign rhetoric would translate into Presidential action.
"I think any sensible and knowledgeable observer of the American scene has got to come to the conclusion that we need executive direction from the President on that issue, so I can hardly be anything but delighted that he has chosen to respond to that," said Marc S. Tucker, head of the National Center on Education and the Economy.
But public attention to the reform movement, he said, would have made education "a major issue no matter who was elected."
"The question is how he is going to go about addressing it," said Mr. Tucker.
"I don't think we know enough yet about how he's going to move," said Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of the education department at Brown University. "I don't think any of us should take campaign rhetoric very seriously."
Many of those who have worked with Mr. Bush on education issues predicted that he would pursue a different course from that taken by the Reagan Administration.
"In education, there's probably a bigger difference than in other aspects of government policy," Mr. Bell said. "I think there will be a perception about the federal role that will be different."
"I wouldn't say that there won't be an understanding that education is primarily a state and local responsibility," he said. "But there will also be an understanding that there can be some federal leadership provided and more concern and compassion for disadvantaged, low-income, and handicapped children."
"That's not to imply that President Reagan was not concerned also," the Reagan appointee added, "but I think it will have a higher priority in the thinking of Mr. Bush."
Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, who is expected to become the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, agreed that Mr. Bush would probably favor a greater federal role in education. That will lead to a better relationship with the Congress than Mr. Reagan had, he predicted.
"I believe he's much more moderate than President Reagan is when it comes to education," said James Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association and chairman of the Republican caucus of the National Education Association.
"He's committed to keeping the department of education and will put people in those positions who will be more supportive of education," Mr. Campbell said.
"I know people who were involved in education who were also involved with his campaign, and I think they are much more positive [than most Reagan appointees] and very dedicated," he added.
At the same time, Mr. Bush is not likely to depart radically from the conservative education policies of the Reagan years, according to Mr. Alexander.
He predicted that the incoming President would stress "the new agenda for American public education--the agenda for change that has emerged during the 80's, including choice, rewarding outstanding teaching with more pay, restructuring of elementary and secondary education, longer school days, and schools open in the summer."
"The tone I would expect would be considerably different, but I hope the agenda is not considerably different," Mr. Alexander said.
Gary L. Bauer, who served as domestic-policy adviser and as undersecretary of education in the Reagan Administration, agreed with the former Tennessee governor.
"I think there will be less argument in the Bush Administration about funding levels at the Education Department and I certainly don't expect abolishing the department to come up again as a viable issue," Mr. Bauer said.
"On the other hand, I think you will hear a lot from the Bush Administration about a lot of the same things Reagan, [former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett], and--if I can put myself in that company--Gary Bauer have spoken about," he said.
Included in the latter, he said, are "the whole question of how do we teach reliable standards of right and wrong, accountability in the educational system, and how do we get more results from the money we are currently spending."
Many observers predicted that Mr. Bush would place great emphasis on programs to combat illiteracy, because his wife Barbara has been active in that area.
Teachers' unions and other education interest groups expressed guarded optimism about their prospects under President Bush.
For the two major unions, which had strongly supported the Democratic candidate, Michael S. Dukakis, the results of the election were a clear disappointment. Still, the unions could take satisfaction in the fact that 51 percent of teachers had voted for Mr. Dukakis, according to a cbs-New York Times poll. In both 1980 and 1984, a majority of teachers backed Mr. Reagan.
The leaders of both the nea and the American Federation of Teachers issued statements last week indicating that they are eager to work with Mr. Bush.
Their comments were similar to those of Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association: "Well, if George Bush wants to be the education president, we intend to help him do that. We will hold him to his promise."
Many in the education community said the initial measures of Mr. Bush's commitment to education would be his proposals for the 1990 budget, and his appointments to the Education Department and other domestic-policy posts.
The Vice President has promised not to attempt to cut education spending, and has specifically pledged increases for Head Start, magnet-schools aid, the Fund for the Reform and Improvement of Schools and Teaching, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
He has also proposed several new programs, including a $500-million2p4initiative called "Merit Schools," which would provide incentive payments to individual schools that raise standards and improve student performance.
"In this country, what people think is important. But you must always look at the dollars," said Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "That is the way we judge."
Edward Kealy, a governmental-relations specialist for the nsba, said it would take a $1 billion increase for the Education Department to impress him--"$400 million to adjust for inflation and another $600 million for the programs he has proposed."
Others said that, no matter what Mr. Bush's priorities are, the federal budget deficit will prevent any major increases in education spending.
"It's going to be a very difficult year to meet [deficit-reduction targets] and maintain priorities," warned Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. "From what Bush has said, we will see very little in taxes and a lot in cuts, and severe cuts won't be acceptable to the Democratic Congress."
As for appointments, education advocates said they would like Mr. Bush to start by retaining Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, whom they praised for openness.
At a news conference last week, Mr. Bush announced the nomination of James A. Baker 3rd to be Secretary of State, but did not name any other prospective Cabinet members.
When asked specifically about the status of three recent appointees who are rumored to be candidates for service in the Bush Administration--Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and Mr. Cavazos--the vice president said those men "could be" staying on, but reiterated his intention to initiate "a major turnover."