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Calif. Schools Get Scant Attention From Candidates

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In what observers say will go down as a disappointingly lackluster campaign for the California governorship, education issues have taken a back seat as the candidates have spent most of their time trying to persuade voters that they are tough on crime and equipped to pull the state out of its financial mess.

Gov. Pete Wilson and his Democratic rival, State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, have discussed the state's schools largely as they fit into the candidates' focus on crime and the economy.

"There's been some lip service paid to public education, but very little in the way of serious proposals," said Tom DeLapp, a spokesman for the Association of California School Administrators.

Governor Wilson has asked the Education Commission of the States to draft a school-reform bill for California, but Mr. Wilson has not talked up any particular strategy. Plans to revamp the state's testing system, which he vetoed, are also a distant topic.

Instead, Mr. Wilson has highlighted his proposals to fight school violence--a part of his anti-crime strategy--and a crackdown on the costs of educating illegal immigrants, a top item on his economic hit list. (See related story.)

For her part, Ms. Brown has also presented education issues in other wrappers.

She opposes Proposition 187, the ballot measure that would bar services to illegal immigrants, and has touted an anti-crime plan that includes special disciplinary schools for first-time criminal offenders and students caught with weapons.

C.T.A. Endorsement

While winning the endorsement of the California Teachers Association, Ms. Brown has had a hard time inspiring much enthusiasm from other school groups.

The administrators' association has endorsed candidates for superintendent of public instruction, attorney general, and state controller, but its membership has yet to reach the 60 percent threshhold necessary to lend its support to a gubernatorial candidate.

Indeed, many voters appear to be less than enthusiastic. A recent poll showed Mr. Wilson building a solid lead, yet voters were wary of both him and Ms. Brown.

The 36 percent voter turnout in the state's primary was an all-time low, and observers are unsure what to expect on Nov. 8.

The disinterest may be fueled by the state's grim fiscal outlook. The first task for whoever is elected will be dealing with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

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