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Administration Touts Vouchers in Debates; Challengers Reject Funding Private Schools

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While education was not a primary theme of last week's Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, the issue of vouchers and private school choice emerged as a point of clear differences between the candidates.

In the second of three Presidential debates, held Oct. 15, President Bush touted his plan to provide financial help to low-income families to use at the public or private school of their choice.

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, by contrast, said he supports choice among public schools, but does not favor the transfer of taxpayer dollars to private schools.

The clash over school choice was even sharper during the Oct. 13 debate between Vice President Dan Quayle, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, and retired Vice Adm. James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate.

The issue arose as the candidates were discussing ways to aid inner cities.

Mr. Gore had just criticized the Bush Administration for vetoing the family-leave bill, and for proposing cuts in child-immunization programs and federal student aid. "How can you say you support families?'' he asked his opponent.

Mr. Quayle replied, "How about supporting parents and the right to choose where their kids go to school, Al?''

Senator Gore responded that he and Mr. Clinton endorse parental choice among public schools, but not among private schools.

"To use taxpayer dollars, when the people who get these little vouchers won't be able to afford the private school anyway and the private school is not under any obligation to admit them, that is a rip-off of the U.S. taxpayer,'' Mr. Gore said.

In the first Presidential debate, on Oct. 11, a panel of journalists did not ask the candidates about education.

Choice Disagreement

Last Thursday, Mr. Bush cited a parental-choice program in Milwaukee that allows poor children to attend the public or private school of their choice as an example of how a federally funded choice program could be successful. In an attempt to show how the issue cuts across party lines, he noted that the Democratic mayor supports it and that a Democratic state representative is the moving force behind the program.

The President challenged the Democratic nominee's characterization of his proposed choice program, which this year was rejected by Congress. Mr. Bush argued that federal money would not go to private schools, but would instead go to parents, who could use the money in any school they wished.

In his remarks on education, Mr. Clinton called for better job-training and apprenticeship programs, a national youth-service program, and full funding of Head Start.

Mr. Perot, noting his work on school reform in Texas, did not offer specifics on how to improve education, but said he favored smaller, neighborhood schools, and questioned the success of busing programs.

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