Democrats Debate on Education

By Mike Glover — November 11, 1987 2 min read

At a debate here last week limited to education issues, all six Democratic presidential candidates agreed that President Reagan should be excoriated for what one hopeful called his “unexcused absen

They all agreed, too, on the need for major new school-spending programs. But on the issue of where the money would come from--and who had supported education the longest and strongest--they parted company.

Senator Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee questioned in particular why Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri had voted for tu4ition tax credits for private schools and against the establishment of the U.S. Education Department.

Mr. Gephardt responded that he had opposed the department for budget reasons and had voted for tax credits before he knew the extent of the problems in public schools.

“I’ve changed my view,” he said.

Former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona said he would institute a national sales tax to support education. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said several taxes could be raised to provide more money for the schools.

Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts called for “a quarter of a billion dollars in a fund for teacher excellence.”

“There’s been almost a revolution in the state role” in education as a result of the national reform movement, Mr. Dukakis noted. “What better person than a sitting governor,” he said, to expand that role to the federal government.

Last week’s debate was the second by the candidates to focus exclusively on education. Sponsored by the state’s leading school groups, the two-hour event was televised live throughout Iowa and several other states.

Former Governor Babbitt said that highly qualified people would continue to shun the teaching profession until salaries are raised. “I think it’s absurd to think we can get good teachers when in the present system they in effect take a vow of poverty,” he said.

Senator Gore pledged that, if elected, one of his first acts would be to telephone Secretary of Education William J. Bennett “to tell him to start cleaning out his desk.”

The Senator also emphasized the need to devote more attention to the early years of schooling. “We need to understand that most learning takes place before kids get to kindergarten,” he said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for more emphasis on character education and noted that he has spent most of his adult life promoting equal access to the nation’s schools and trying to get parents more involved in education.

Senator Paul Simon of Illinois said that the next President should work to assure that the local, state, and federal governments bear equal proportions of the cost of schooling. The enormous cost to the federal government from such a switch could be paid for, he said, by cutting defense spending.

“It will take federal leadership to change that,” Mr. Simon noted.

Representative Gephardt said the most important role of the President in education matters is to set national goals. “We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is,” he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 1987 edition of Education Week as Democrats Debate on Education