In Shadow of National Races, Heated 'Education' Contests
For several months, both George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis have been doing their best to convice the public that they would be the better "education President," as Mr. Bush has framed the issue.
Meanwhile, nearly all of the 25 men and women seeking to be elected to their states' highest office next week are also trying to get word out that they are "education governors" or want to become one.
The 12 gubernatorial races have been almost entirely overshadowed by the Presidential contest. And the lack of attention has caused some to question whether the era of reform-oriented governors such as Winter of Mississippi, Riley of South Carolina, and Alexander of Tennessee is drawing to a close.
But interviews with campaign officials and educators in the states choosing governors indicate that school reform has kept its decade-long spot near the top of voters' concerns--a fact not lost on the candidates.
For the majority of gubernatorial incumbents and challengers, detailed education proposals and critiques are a campaign fulcrum that may well tip the balance.
Polls conducted since mid-October indicate that as many as half of the governorships at stake this year could change hands, suggesting a possible shift in the direction of education policy in those states.
Indiana, Montana, and New Hampshire have open races, and incumbents are threatened in Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia. Current governors are expected to win re-election in Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.
Stay the Course?
In Indiana, one of the questions being put before voters is whether to stay on the education course charted by the retiring Republican governor, Robert D. Orr. Recent polls indicate the state may be ready for a change.
During his two four-year terms, Mr. Orr has pushed a series of reform measures through the legislature. They include Project PrimeTime--an effort to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through the 3rd grade--and the $4.5-billion "A+4Program," which lengthened the year, created an "outcome-based" accreditation system, provided financial rewards for top schools, and required statewide testing of students combined with summer remediation for low scorers and grade retention for those who fail the test a second time.
The Republican candidate, Lieut. Gov. John M. Mutz, says he wants to "build upon the strong foundation of accountability laid by the A+ Program." Schools, he says, "cannot and should not be asked to shift directions every few years."
Mr. Mutz, a farmer and businessman, has given his education agenda two labels--the Five Star Program for Educational Excellence, or A+ Plus. His program calls for:
Expanding summer remediation for those who fail or do poorly on the the statewide student test.
Reducing 4th-grade class sizes to provide extra help to those who do poorly on the test in the 3rd grade.
Matching grants to encourage local experiments in restructuring and parental choice.
Providing teachers with "competitive" salaries and granting them more decisionmaking authority.
A "long-overdue revision" of the state's school-aid formula.
Mr. Mutz estimates that his proposals would cost a total of $62 million. Just over $48 million would come from taxes that were approved to fund the A+ Program, and the remainder from education funds "allocated but not spent during the 1987-88 fiscal year," he says.
Polls indicate that the Democratic contender, Secretary of State B. Evan Bayh 3rd, is running ahead of Mr. Mutz. Mr. Bayh is the son of for8mer U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, who lost his own re-election bid in 1980 to Dan Quayle, the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.
Mr. Bayh contends that the Orr-Mutz approach to school reform is characterized by state mandates, regimentation, an emphasis on quantity rather than quality, and "a sense of wandering."
Mr. Bayh has named his precollegiate-education platform "Being First by the 21st." His chief proposals include doubling funding, from $20 million to $40 million, for existing programs for "at risk" children, and offering districts a total of $20 million in grants to encourage innovation in mathematics and science instruction, parental involvement, business partnerships, and teaching methods.
He says the $40 million could be raised "from cost savings we can generate from other parts of state government" and by keeping the current school-aid budget level despite a projected decrease in enrollment.
Mr. Bayh also has proposed a job-training program that would require school districts to assess at-risk students' needs and develop alternative-education programs for them. His plan also would establish a uniform system for collecting data on dropouts; encourage nonprofit groups and retirees to provide child care for pregnant students; and encourage businesses to provide after-school and summer jobs to potential dropouts.
In Missouri and North Carolina, the incumbent Republican governors--John Ashcroft and James G. Martin--appear headed for easy victories over their Democratic challengers. But in both races, the unel10lderdogs have launched attacksng their opponents of unjustly claiming credit for their state's school-reform programs.
In campaign literature, Gov. Ashcroft has cited the enactment of Missouri's 1985 "Excellence in Education Act" as one of his top accomplishments in office. The $72-million program set the minimum teacher salary at $15,000, increasing to $18,000 by 1989; created a career-ladder system for teachers; required prospective teachers to pass competency tests for admission to education schools and for certification; and ordered districts to adopt student-discipline codes and drug-abuse-prevention programs.
But Betty C. Hearnes, the Democratic candidate, claims Mr. Ashcroft has been a "do-nothing governor" who "operates in a world of illusion."
Ms. Hearnes--the wife of former Gov. Warren E. Hearnes, and a former music teacher who has been in the state legislature since 1979--says the school-reform law is a case in point. Her campaign has issued a detailed chronology alleging that Mr. Ashcroft's only involvement with the bill was his decision to sign it.
"The Governor was not a 'player' during the development and drafting of this important public policy--he wasn't even Governor yet," a campaign document asserts.
Similar Attack in North Carolina
A similar situation has developed in North Carolina, where both candidates are claiming credit for recent improvements in education.
Recent polls show that the Republican incumbent, James G. Martin, is leading the race. His campaign says he is running in great measure on his accomplishments in education, which it says includes successfully pressing for a career ladder; increasing school aid from $1.8 billion to $2.9 billion; raising teacher salaries; and proposing a $1.5-billion bond issue for school construction and a pilot preschool program for at-risk youngsters.
A vastly different picture is being painted by the Democratic candidate, Lieut. Gov. Robert B. Jordan 3rd. His campaign asserts that in his capacity as Senate President, he and other Democrats were chiefly responsible for pushing through the reforms that Mr. Martin claims credit for.
Mr. Jordan notes that while Mr. Martin recommended a 17.2 percent cumulative increase in teacher pay during the past four years, the Democratic legislature approved an increase of 25.6 percent. If the Governor had his way, he says, the state's national rank in that category would have dropped from 35th to 39th, rather than risen to 30th.
Mr. Jordan also maintains that the state's reform law, known as the Basic Education Program, would not have gotten off the ground if the Democratic legislature had not exceeded Mr. Martin's budget requests.
Incumbent in Utah Threatened
In Utah and West Virginia, incumbent Republican governors are fighting for their political lives due in part to dissatisfaction over their education policies.
Polls show that Gov. Norman H. Bangerter of Utah is trailing his Democratic opponent, Ted L. Wilson, by 20 percent. An independent candidate, Merrill A. Cook, is running a distant third.
According to educators and politicians in the state, Mr. Bangerter is taking a beating over his decision to seek a $166-million tax increase in 1987 to "maintain education funding" in the wake of falling oil prices and the decline of the mining industry.
The increase, the largest in the state's history, also spurred a tax revolt that will culminate next week when voters cast ballots on two tax-limitation measures and a third to provide income-tax credits for private-school expenses. (See related story, page 12.)
Terrel H. Bell, the Reagan Administration's first Secretary of Education and a native Utahan, has come to the Governor's defense. In a campaign brochure, he writes that "had [the Governor] not been willing to take forceful and courageous action, school districts would have suffered horrendous cuts in staff, salaries, and programs."
"Governor Bangerter has suffered the wrath of thousands of taxpayers as a result of his courageous action," the brochure says.
Curiously, the Democratic candidate's opposition to the tax-limitation initiatives has not affected his standing among voters.
Mr. Wilson, a former high-school teacher and mayor of Salt Lake City, says that passage of the tax initiatives would create "an atmosphere of defeat" in the state.
At the same time, he has criticized Mr. Bangerter's handling of fiscal matters, saying "the yo-yo tax policies of the Bangerter administration are not a good way to run our state."
Mr. Wilson says one of his first acts if elected would be to call a statewide conference to address the state's "educational crisis." Participants, he says, would discuss ways to reduce the dropout and illiteracy rates, develop a skilled and competitive workforce, and recruit talented teachers.
Mr. Wilson also says he would seek to relax regulations for several ''governor's schools" and encourage them to experiment with decentralized decisionmaking and develop new teaching methods.
W.Va. Incumbent Underdog
In West Virginia, polls show that the Republican governor, Arch A. Moore Jr., is trailing Gaston Caperton, an insurance-company owner running for his first elected office, by 36 percent to 52 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
According to observers in the state, many West Virginians have become disenchanted with the three-term Governor over his seeming inability deal with the economic consequences of declines in the state's coal, glass, oil, and steel industries.
Tens of thousands of residents have reportedly left the state to seek jobs elsewhere. For example, officials in Montgomery County, Md., a Washington suburb, say that as many as 9,900 West Virginians spent this past summer living in tents and campers in county parks while they looked for work in the area.
According to educators, many teachers have left West Virginia to seek higher-paying jobs in neighboring states. They note that teachers have received only a $600 pay raise in the past four years.
Teachers are also angry over their retirement system's $1.5-billion unfunded liability and the state health-insurance system's chronic inability to pay their medical bills on time.
According to Ed Esposito, Mr. Moore's campaign secretary, "our emphasis is to continue the course we are on with regard to economic development and the need to reform our education system."
Mr. Moore's commitment to education "is not a question," he says. ''The question is getting the biggest bang for the buck by realigning or fine-tuning our education system."
Mr. Caperton, the Democratic candidate, is the founder and past president of the West Virginia Education Fund, a business organization that provides support for public schools. His wife, Dee, was first elected to the state House in 1986, where she has concentrated on education issues.
Highlights of Mr. Caperton's 15-point education platform include: upgrading the state's remedial-education program; implementing half-day kindergarten and requiring parents to attend a program outlining their role in their children's education; making vocational education more responsible to business needs; mandating the development of individualized education plans for all students; and an "irrevocable commitment to raise teachers' salaries and fully fund their insurance and retirement programs."
The following are summaries of other gubernatorial races:
Rhode Island. Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, a Republican, has lost his large lead over Bruce Sundlun as a result of allegations of corruption in his administration. Mr. DiPrete has denied the charges, noting that he has moved quickly to investigate them and has apologized to the public for the perception of wrongdoing.
The Governor has pledged to make education a top priority if he is elected to a third term.
Mr. Sundlun, a businessman, lost to Mr. DiPrete in the 1986 gubernatorial election. He is a member of the Providence school board.
Mr. Sundlun has proposed a number of education initiatives, such as a new early-childhood education program for the disadvantaged; expanded counseling, early identifica4tion, and summer-school services for potential dropouts; and after-school and enrichment programs for "latchkey" children.
Vermont. The Democratic governor, Madeleine M. Kunin, is expected to defeat Michael Bernhardt, minority leader of the Vermont House.
Ms. Kunin says one of her proudest accomplishments in office was raising state school aid by 84 percent during the past four years. She also convinced lawmakers last year to pass a major finance-reform measure.
The Governor says one of her goals for her next term would be to upgrade vocational education. She also supports the education commissioner's plan to assess student performance on the basis of work portfolios as well as test scores.
Mr. Bernhardt has criticized the new finance formula, saying it "simply threw money at the schools without addressing any specific needs.'' He also says Ms. Kunin has "resisted fully funding her own foundation formula."
His proposals include grants to districts to increase parental involvement; adequate state funding "without usurping the local property tax"; and developing a student assessment program that would allow for local flexibility.
Washington. Polls indicate that Booth Gardner, the Democratic incumbent, will defeat Bob Williams, a nine-year veteran of the state House.
Mr. Gardner convinced lawmakers to pass a major school-reform bill in 1987 that expanded the state's preschool program; created a new program to help illiterate parents master basic skills; and lifted state regulations for several districts and individual schools to permit experiments in restructuring.
Mr. Gardner says that, if elected, he would double the number of schools involved in the restructuring project, raise teacher salaries, and propose the creation of an an institute for advanced technology in schools.
Mr. Williams has pledged to make education "the top budget priority'' of his adminsitration. He says he would work with parents, teachers, and administrators to set clear performance standards for students, and would "return control and accountability" to local officials by eliminating "most of the mandated programs imposed on our teachers and administrators."
Montana. Gov. Ted Schwinden, a Republican, is not seeking re-election, and polls indicate the race to succeed him is even.
The next governor--either Thomas L. Judge, a Democrat, or Stanley G. Stevens, a Republican--will have to find a way to address a state judge's order this year requiring the state to revise its school-aid formula by October 1989.
New Hampshire. Gov. John Sununu, a Republican, has chosen not to seek re-election. He is expected to play a role in a Bush Administration if Mr. Bush is elected President.
The Republican candidate, U.S. Representative Judd Gregg, is expected to defeat Paul McEachern, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Sununu in 1986.
Delaware. The Republican incumbent, Michael N. Castle, is favored to defeat Jacob Kreshtool, a lawyer who has been active in environmental matters.
North Dakota. The Democratic incumbent, George A. Sinner, is expected to win re-election. His opponent is Leon Mallberg, a real-estate agent and businessman.
Staff Writers Deborah L. Gold and Peter West contributed to this report.
Vol. 08, Issue 09