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Democrats Stress Party's Historic Role With Set of Six Key Goals for Schools

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By Julie A. Miller

Greenbelt, Md.--Trying to grab a little of the limelight focused on President Bush's education summit with the nation's governors, Congressional Democrats last week unveiled a proposed list of national education goals at a star-studded news conference.

"The first essential step is to establish national performance goals," said George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate majority leader who initiated the project. "We offer this set of goals as what we as Democrats believe is essential for this nation."

"This is not often done; it's noteworthy because it was a cooperative effort," said Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House majority leader. "What this shows you today is that the party is absolutely together on the issue of education."

Joining Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Gephardt at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., were eight other House and Senate Democrats and two Democratic governors.

A Coordinated Effort

Aides who worked on the statement said Mr. Mitchell's staff coordinated an effort that included the leaders of the House and Senate, leading members of both chambers' education panels, and some Democratic governors.

"The leadership didn't want to be left out while the President co-opted what has traditionally been a Democratic issue," a House education aide said.

Indeed, while the lawmakers repeatedly denied partisan intent, Mr. Mitchell noted that the Democratic Party "has long championed educational opportunity for all Americans."

"The major federal education programs are all Democratic initiatives," he said.

While the upcoming meeting was President Bush's idea, Representative Pat Williams of Montana noted, the Congress mandated a national summit on education in 1984 that would include "every party that is concerned about our schools."

While the Congress appropriated $500,000 for that meeting, the Reagan Administration did not hold it, he said.

In their statement, the Democrats called for such a conference to follow this week's summit. The "broad based" meeting should include educators, parents, education experts, business leaders, and public officials, they said.

Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas also used the occasion to reassure the White House that the Democrats would not use the summit to demand big increases in federal education funding.

"Some governors will urge that federal funding go back to the 2.5 percent of the budget that it was in 1980, up from the 1.7 percent it is now," he said. "But I think if we agree on goals, the money questions will resolve themselves."

Democrats' Six Goals

The six goals proposed by the Democrats were:

  • Annually increasing the number of children served by preschool programs with the goal of serving all "at-risk" 4-year-olds by 1995.
  • Raising the basic-skills achievement of all students to at least their grade level, and reducing the gap between the test scores of minority and white children by 1993.
  • Improving the high-school graduation rate every year and reducing the number of illiterate Americans.
  • Improving the performance of American students in mathematics, science, and foreign languages until it exceeds that of students from "other industrialized nations."
  • Increasing college participation, particularly by minorities, and specifically by reducing the current "imbalance" between grants and loans.
  • Recruiting more new teachers, particularly minority teachers, to ease "the impending teacher shortage," and taking other steps to upgrade the status of the profession.

They also suggested an annual event in the Capitol commending the 50 state teachers of the year and a National Council on Academic Excellence to recognize high-achieving students.

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