Education-Reform Issues Hottest In Many Gubernatorial Contests
Education has emerged as a key campaign issue in several of the 13 states holding gubernatorial elections next week, with candidates in many cases developing highly detailed platforms.
In Arkansas, for example, Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democrat running for a third consecutive term, has styled his campaign as a referendum on the future of school reform in the state. In Indiana, Gov. Robert D. Orr, the Republican incumbent, unveiled a $218-million, two-year school-reform plan less than three weeks before Election Day. (See related story on page 8.)
Meanwhile, in Delaware, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lieut. Gov. Michael N. Castle, has repeatedly cited his role as co-chairman of the state's task force on education for economic growth as evidence of his ability to provide leadership in this area. And in Utah, Lieut. Gov. Wayne Owens, the Democratic contender, has been making an issue of his opponent's role as speaker of the state House in the reduction of funding for the education-reform proposal initiated by the outgoing Governor, Scott M. Matheson.
According to Democratic and Republican campaign officials and other observers, education enjoys a high profile in many of this year's gubernatorial races for a number of reasons.
First, several campaign officials noted, state contributions to public elementary and secondary schools have increased dramatically in recent years, from a national average of about 37 percent of total costs in 1971-72 to an average of 48.3 percent in 1982-83. As schools' reliance on state revenue has risen, they suggested, so has public interest in state education policies.
Second, the attention paid by the media to the spate of national reports decrying the condition of education in the nation, and the increased level of involvement in education on the part of the Congress, the Reagan Administration, and several governors "has helped to move the issue to the forefront of the campaigns," noted Barry Van Lare, an official at the National Governors' Association.
Finally, several officials noted, the public is increasingly linking education to the issues of economic development and employment, which dominated state politics during the economic recessions of the 1970's. "The issue is so important because it's being tied so closely to jobs," said an official at the Republican Governors' Association. "People are beginning to realize that there aren't going to be many jobs for high-school dropouts in the future. There's also a belief that you won't be able to draw new high-tech businesses to your area if you don't have good universities and school systems."
Following are descriptions of positions on education taken by gubernatorial candidates in several of the states where education has emerged as a major campaign issue:
According to several observers, nowhere has the education issue dominated a gubernatorial campaign this year as it has in Arkansas, where Governor Clinton is being challenged by Woodie Freeman, a Republican who has been a member of the Jonesboro school board for the past eight years. Recent polls show Governor Clinton leading the race.
On numerous occasions, Governor Clinton has told voters that the success of the education-reform program he pushed through the state legislature last fall depends upon3his re-election.
For example, during a radio interview broadcast on Oct. 21, he said that if he is defeated, "the legislature will take it as a signal they're supposed to come in here and water down the standards."
The education program adopted by the legislature last fall includes a set of new standards public schools must meet by 1987 to avoid consolidation, as well as a 1-percent increase in the state sales tax earmarked for higher teacher salaries and school improvements. The legislature also adopted his recommendation that teachers be required to pass competency examinations.
Spokesmen for Mr. Freeman's campaign have accused Governor Clinton of having distorted their candidate's position on education.
"While [Mr. Freeman] was president of the Jonesboro board, three of the schools in his district were cited by the federal government as models of excellence," Jim" Drake, Mr. Freeman's press secretary, noted last week. "Our point is that he is qualified to solve state education problems because he has worked at the local level with administrators, teachers, and parents to improve the quality of education in Arkansas."
Mr. Drake said the candidates' biggest difference of opinion is on the issue of school consolidation, a volatile topic in this rural state. "Clinton is for forced consolidation if they don't meet the new standards," he explained. "Freeman is for the standards, but he doesn't believe in forced consolidation."
According to William McCauley, an official in Governor Orr's re-election campaign, a poll taken in late September indicates that education is the top issue on the minds of the state's voters, having surpassed employment for the first time since the recession of 1980. Recent polls indicate that that the Governor has a substantial lead in the race.
On Oct. 17, Governor Orr unveiled four new programs and funding increases for seven existing programs to continue the "Decade of Excellence" initiative he announced in 1981. The total cost of his package is $218 million over the next two years.
Among other things, the Governor's proposal calls for: the establishment of a state "Endowment for Excellence in Education" to finance career-ladder plans for teachers; the development of a professional-improvement program; the expansion of competency testing and remedial programs for students; and the expansion of the state's "Primetime" program, which involves lowering student-teacher ratios, to grades 2 and 3.
He also reiterated a commitment made earlier this summer to seek a minimum of nearly $1.7 billion in new education funds over the next four years.
Governor's Orr's Democratic opponent, State Senator Wayne Townsend, last month proposed the creation of an "Indiana Teacher Corps," which would provide scholarships of $5,000 per year to talented high-school students planning a career in teaching. The scholarships would be offered to 500 students annually who agree to teach in state. Senator Townsend also proposes competency testing for prospective teachers.
"Advertising by both camps indicates the feeling that education is an important issue in this campaign," said Alvin Hayes, deputy press secretary for the Townsend campaign. "Our position is that the current administration has displayed poor stewardship over the schools. The rate of expenditure for education is low, the dropout rate is high, and those are bad indicators."
"Education has been a serious issue in this campaign from the beginning," said Michael Ratchford, campaign manager for Lieutenant Governor Castle, the Republican candidate. "In a poll I just looked at it came in right behind jobs and economic development."
Last month, Mr. Castle, who is said to be favored in recent polls, challenged the state's schools to adopt a 10-point agenda for progress that he developed in response to the recommendations of Gov. Pierre S. du Pont 4th's task force on education, of which he was co-chairman.
In part, the agenda calls for the development of a statewide core curriculum of basic skills, the development of a statewide "mastery test" system, more efficient use of the school day, and more homework for students.
In addition, the Republican candidate said that if elected, he would propose a plan to measure progress in raising academic standards by surveying parents and teachers next spring.
A spokesman for the Democratic challenger, William T. Quillen, a former state supreme court justice, said her candidate's main objective in education is to raise teachers' salaries to the point that the state ranks among the top 10 in the nation in this category.
In addition, said Claire Brown, a member of Mr. Quillen's campaign staff, the Democrat's "action plan" for education includes adding addi-tional units in mathematics and science to the state's mandated curriculum; a requirement that by 1988 prospective high-school graduates demonstrate at least 10th-grade competency in order to graduate; a maximum student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1 in all classrooms; elementary-level guidance programs aimed at reducing the state's dropout rate; and increased financial support for computer and scientific-equipment purchases.
"Education? It's our issue," claimed Tony Tsakakis, press secretary to former U.S. Representative Wayne Owens, Democratic candidate for governor. "All the polls are showing it as the number-one concern among voters."
According to Mr. Tsakakis, the Democratic candidate strongly supports continued funding for the education reforms pushed through the state legislature last spring by Governor Matheson. Among other things, the reform package included a statewide career-ladder plan for teachers, a scholarship program to entice bright students into teaching, and funding increases for local schools to help offset the cost of educating the state's rapidly growing school-age population.
Mr. Owens, his aide said, is also "looking closely" at the concept of year-round schooling and has proposed that the state decrease its reliance on property taxes as a major revenue source for education.
Mr. Tsakakis said Mr. Owens has strongly criticized his opponent, Norman Bangerter, speaker of the state House of Representatives, for leading the opposition to Governor Matheson's request for $150 million to finance the education-reform package. "In its infinite wisdom, the legislature said, 'That's too much,' and approved only $90 million, basically enough to just cover annual cost increases," Mr. Tsakakis said. "We hit Bangerter hard on that every chance we get."
Francine Giani, Mr. Bangerter's campaign press secretary, accused Mr. Owens of "making promises to everybody," including education groups that supported the $150-million request for the reform package.
Mr. Bangerter "felt that the budget request was way too high," she explained. "All that he's saying is that we need to be more realistic."
Ms. Giani said that if elected, Mr. Bangerter would ask the legislature to earmark half of the state's projected $50-million budget surplus for "one-time-only school expenditures such as computers, software, and textbooks." She said the Republican candidate, who holds a slight lead in the polls, also supports year-round schooling, an evaluation of the new career-ladder program, and a freeze on state taxes for at least two years.
"Education is definitely a big issue in Missouri," said Dennis McCulloch, a spokesman for Lieut. Gov. Kenneth Rothman, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in that state. "There's no question about it. All the polls, public and private, are indicating it."
According to Mr. McCulloch, Lieutenant Governor Rothman last May released a comprehensive position paper outlining his goals for education if elected. Among his main proposals were testing prospective teachers and raising state aid to education by as much as $100 million annually until teachers' salaries reach the national average.
In addition, the Lieutenant Governor proposed the creation of a "Missouri Teacher Career Corps," which would provide financial incentives to encourage teachers to upgrade their professional skills. "We think this is a more objective way of rewarding teachers, as opposed to merit pay," Mr. McCulloch said. "It gets to the matter of improving the teaching force better than competency testing."
The spokesman said the Lieutenant Governor has proposed no tax increases to fund his proposals. Rather, he said, the candidate proposes "to take education's cut of the existing budget off the top, and then go down the list."
State Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mr. Rothman's Republican opponent, has also listed improving education as his top priority if elected to office, said his campaign's press secretary, Nancy Carroll. Recent polls indicate that Mr. Ashcroft's lead over Mr. Rothman is narrowing.
Like his opponent, Mr. Ashcroft proposes increasing state aid to education until teachers' salaries reach the national average. He also proposed testing teachers for competency before they can be certified, an annual assessment of student achievement, and bonus pay for schools and individual teachers demonstrating outstanding achievement among their students.
Ms. Carroll also said that Mr. Ashcroft is examining the possibility of proposing a statewide "career-ladder" plan for teachers modeled after the one adopted in Tennessee.
In other gubernatorial races across the country:
In Washington, Pierce County Executive Booth Gardner, a Democrat, is challenging Gov. John Spellman, who is seeking a second term.
In North Carolina, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a past president of the Education Commission of the States, chose to run for the U.S. Senate. Seeking to replace him are State Attorney General Rufus Edmisten, a Democrat, and U.S. Representative James G. Martin, a Republican.
In Rhode Island, the Republican Mayor of Cranston, Edward D. DiPrete, faces Democratic State Treasurer Anthony J. Solomon. The incumbent governor, J. Joseph Garrahy, a Democrat, chose not to seek re-election after serving four terms.
New Hampshire's Gov. John H. Sununu, a Republican running for a second term, is being challenged by State Representative Christopher Spirou, a Democratic and the chamber's minority leader.
Lieut. Gov. Madeline Kunin of Vermont, a Democrat, faces State Attorney General John Easton in that state's race.
In Montana, the incumbent Democratic governor, Ted Schwinden, is opposed by Republican State Senator Pat Goodover.
Gov. Allan Olsen of North Dakota, a Republican, is being challenged by State Representative George Sinner, a Democrat.
In West Virginia, the former Republican governor, Arch A. Moore Jr., is opposed by State Representative Clyde M. See, the Democratic speaker of the state House.