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A mockery

A mock election in Alabama's public schools has some state officials crying dirty politics, and at least three Republicans are calling for a probe of political bias in the children's polling.

Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a Republican from Montgomery, called a news conference early this month after hearing complaints about the information students were given to help them pick a presidential favorite in the statewide mock vote. The critics charge that handouts presented GOP candidate Bob Dole unfavorably compared with President Clinton, who won the mock election.

In one case, a handout comparing the candidates for high school students in Autauga County said Mr. Clinton cut the deficit, created jobs, and cut big government, while Mr. Dole "talks about it." One phonics worksheet for 1st graders in Montgomery asked if former President Ronald Reagan was a "liar" or "incompetent" in not meeting campaign promises to balance the federal budget. The passage praised President Clinton for showing "political fortitude."

Mr. Hooper is setting up a legislative oversight committee to investigate the matter. His complaints were echoed by Stephanie Bell, a state school board member.

"The materials gave the students a negative impression of one political party or one candidate over the other," said Ms. Bell, who will ask the state school board next week to make recommendations on how to ensure future mock elections are fair. "The intent is obvious."

Tom Walker, a coordinator of the event sponsored by the Citizenship Trust and the Alabama PTA, told reporters that while he agrees teachers should not be "synthesizing materials for students," he is sure that the problem is not widespread.

Ms. Bell said her concern is nonpartisan.

"The issue is a teacher or teachers using a very positive experience to push a particular political agenda," she said. "The political party is not the issue."

Ms. Bell said the investigation should aim to determine if the bias surfaced because of the election or if it is part of a larger, year-round problem of favoring either Democrats or Republicans in Alabama's 127 school districts.

Adults in the state clearly have a different view from that of students: Mr. Dole carried Alabama last week, and voters chose a Republican U.S. Senate candidate and five Republicans for the state's seven seats in the House of Representatives.


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