GOP, Clinton Hit the Road For School Events

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Capitalizing on back-to-school fanfare, Washington leaders sought to put their education platforms in the spotlight last week.

With polls showing education as the top priority for voters, federal lawmakers used the start of the school year to drum up support for their K-12 priorities with events around the country. And, with campaigns for the 2000 elections already under way, this year's events seemed to be bigger in scale than those of the past.

For one, a delegation of congressional Republicans, led by Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, toured schools in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey on a two-day bus tour. The week before, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley took a similar bus tour in the South. ("On the Bus: Riley Hits the Road With His K-12 Message," Sept. 8, 1999.)

"One of the things we want to accomplish on this tour is to let people know what we've done," Mr. Watts said in a telephone interview as his bus rolled into Evansville, Ind. "It's a lot of work to put these things together, but you get a lot of mileage out of them."

While 10 congressional Republicans took part in the tour that ran Sept. 7 and 8, Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, visited an elementary school in his home state with Republican Gov. Tom Ridge to promote Mr. Goodling's GOP-backed teacher-quality legislation.

And on Sept. 8, Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., dropped in at a Washington charter school to promote flexibility in spending federal education dollars and the related Straight A's Act the House is debating. The Straight A's bill--which a raft of education groups criticized in a letter to House members last week--would allow states that entered five-year "performance agreements" with the Department of Education wide latitude on spending for a range of precollegiate programs.

Presidential Visits

President Clinton and Secretary Riley, meanwhile, traveled to Norfolk, Va., on Labor Day to visit an elementary school and promote their school-construction-funding plan. The two took aim at congressional Republicans for refusing last year to pass the five-year, $25 billion proposal, which would help districts pay interest on construction bonds.

The next day, Mr. Clinton announced the recipients of $33 million in teacher-quality grants, and he urged Congress to continue his $1.2 billion program to hire 100,000 new teachers over seven years to reduce class sizes. The program's one-year authorization for funding expires Sept. 30, and Mr. Goodling and other Republicans want to rework it to focus on teacher qualifications and professional development.

"We have to work on teacher quality, but you can't have a quality teacher unless you have a teacher in the first place," Mr. Clinton said during his Sept. 7 visit to Brook Grove Elementary School in Olney, Md.

Mr. Riley has spent most of the past three weeks attending back-to-school events, including his bus tour to promote White House K- 12 initiatives. By contrast, Mr. Watts' entourage billed its tour as more substantive and low-key than Mr. Riley's five-day, privately financed travels.

The Republicans sought out innovative public schools and public input on their education initiatives, said John Phillippe, a GOP aide. Their tour was paid for by the House Republican Conference--which Mr. Watts chairs--and cost about $2,000.

The GOP chartered one bus, Mr. Phillippe added, and only two staff members escorted the members of Congress and Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey as they visited four elementary schools, a charter school, a high school, and an after-school program.

Vol. 19, Issue 2, Page 22

Published in Print: September 15, 1999, as GOP, Clinton Hit the Road For School Events
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