Gore Assumes High-Profile Role on Schools
From after-school-grant awards to budget priorities, Vice President Al Gore has repeatedly been on hand in recent months to announce education news from the White House.
As the 2000 political cycle hits full speed and Mr. Gore contends with former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Clinton, the vice president is now attempting to mesh those announcements on behalf of the administration with his own campaign agenda.
Building on the administration's education initiatives is one way Mr. Gore can use the White House platform to his advantage, some analysts say.
"It doesn't make any sense to distance himself from the Clinton agenda, because it's proven so popular with voters," said Will Marshall, the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which President Clinton once chaired. "The vice president has an interest in continuing to drive home his ideas on how to improve schools."
Mr. Gore, who has always supported his boss's education initiatives, took on the high-profile task of announcing some proposals and prominent grants many months ago in anticipation of his presidential bid.
Last April, for example, he traveled to California to announce that the vote-rich state had received a waiver in using its funding under the federal class-size-reduction program, news that would normally have been conveyed by a letter from the Department of Education.
This month, he has announced several education proposals that will be included in the White House's upcoming budget plan for fiscal 2001.
Further Steps Needed?
"He has been very committed to improving and investing in education, which is why he's had such an active role in the administration's efforts," said Julie Green, a spokeswoman for the vice president's office.
Still, Arnold F. Fege, the president of Public Advocacy for Kids, a nonprofit consulting firm, argues that Mr. Gore needs to take his support of the administration's education initiatives a step further.
"When you take a look at the polls, Bill Clinton has really moved education into an arena of major national conversation and priority," Mr. Fege said. Mr. Gore, he added, "has got to talk about what the next stage is—'How can I build on what Bill Clinton has done?' "
The Gore education platform includes proposals on universal preschool education, teacher training, class-size reduction, and school technology.
Mr. Fege predicted that Mr. Gore might try to create a common theme as an umbrella for his initiatives, which now are primarily tied together under the label of a "Education Reform Trust Fund" that would provide an additional $115 billion in federal spending over 10 years.
No Overriding Theme
An adviser to the campaign of Gov. George W. Bush, the Texas Republican who could face Mr. Gore in the general election, argued that Mr. Gore had merely attached himself to Mr. Clinton's agenda.
"Being in the administration, you can claim credit, but I don't know how many of these ideas are his," said Nina Shokraii Rees, who is the education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. "But he has everything to gain by associating himself closely with the president, because the president has done so well in education."
Last year, Mr. Gore received key endorsements from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The national teachers' unions have consistently supported—and in some cases helped shape—the Clinton administration's education proposals.
Mr. Gore has consistently promoted the president's initiative to reduce class sizes by hiring 100,000 new teachers over seven years, one of the top priorities for both unions.
But the NEA nevertheless sees Mr. Gore's education agenda as separate from and even more ambitious than Mr. Clinton's plans.
"Since this campaign started, the leadership [the vice president] has shown over the past seven years is playing out into his vision for education," said Mary Elizabeth Teasley, the director of government relations for the 2.4 million-member union. "He is not simply embracing the Clinton agenda—he is out front with new proposals."
She pointed to Mr. Gore's calls for increasing teacher salaries, his promotion of the telecommunications E-rate for schools, and proposals for greater federal spending on education as examples of ways the vice president has staked his own ground on education issues.
Some of Mr. Gore's engagements, however, have backfired.
Last February, Mr. Gore received considerable criticism for announcing the scores from the 1998 reading tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and was accused of misleading the public by putting a too-positive spin on the results and politicizing the event. According to NAEP guidelines, the commissioner of education statistics is to announce such scores and the process is to be shielded from political considerations. ("Board Contends Gore's Role Politicized NAEP Release," March 10, 1999.) In the campaign, meanwhile, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley have shown few basic differences on school issues, though the vice president has attacked the former senator for his votes in favor of voucher proposals. Mr. Bradley's spokeswoman, Kristen Ludecke, said that Mr. Bradley supports nearly all the Clinton-Gore education proposals. But Mr. Gore does not propose to fully fund his initiatives, she said.
Mr. Bradley "believes education is not just a bunch of proposals that get handed down from Washington," Ms. Ludecke said. His idea, she added, is to create a comprehensive approach to finance a full range of education and children's health programs.
"It speaks to the point and puts real resources [into education], not just naming programs," she said.
Partly in response to Mr. Bradley's criticism, Mr. Gore's campaign ran an television advertisement in Iowa this month touting his work on preschool, class-size reduction, teacher training, school construction, and technology issues, all of which are long-standing White House priorities.
According to the advertisement, Mr. Gore is "the only Democratic candidate to make education a priority."
Vol. 19, Issue 20, Pages 19,21