Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley called last week for the federal government to spend $80 billion over 10 years to overhaul its efforts to improve failing schools in impoverished areas.
In his first major education speech of the campaign, the former New Jersey senator outlined a broad-based plan that would double Title I funding, require teachers to be fully certified, offer signing bonuses and merit pay for teachers, expand Head Start, and provide public school choice for students in failing schools.
The same themes have been sounded by other presidential candidates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, as teacher quality and the needs of disadvantaged children continue to be two of the most prominent issues in education.
Mr. Bradley is seeking to shore up his campaign after second-place showings in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses. He also used the proposals to criticize his rival for the party’s nomination, Vice President Al Gore, and the Clinton administration on education issues.
“During the past seven years, we’ve heard a lot of talk about education, but too often the rhetoric hasn’t been backed up by any action,” Mr. Bradley said in the Feb. 9 speech at University City (Mo.) High School, where he unveiled his proposals. “When you look at cold, hard results, we still have too much mediocrity, too much failure, and too much status quo in our schools.”
The same day, Mr. Gore gave a speech in Detroit promoting his plans for making preschool universally available and helping families pay for higher education.
The vice president announced details of his “national tuition savings program,” which would create new accounts for parents to invest money for college, and would guarantee tuition rates at public universities. The existing federal education-savings-account program allows parents and others to contribute up to $500 each year, tax free, for higher education expenses.
In his speech, Mr. Gore also maintained that Mr. Bradley’s plan would not be feasible because the proposed increases would use up the entire budget surplus.
And the Gore staff was quick to criticize Mr. Bradley’s proposals.
“He has certainly changed his tune on education,” said Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for the Gore campaign. “Not until after he lost in Iowa and New Hampshire did he decide to do a major education speech.”
Achievement Gap Targeted
Much of Mr. Bradley’s education plan, such as his proposal on teacher certification, reflects ideas being promoted on Capitol Hill by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who serves as an adviser to the Bradley campaign.
In an interview, Mr. Miller praised Mr. Bradley’s focus on teacher quality and his plans to target Title I schools. “He has raised a lot of these issues throughout the campaign,” Mr. Miller said. “He has made it clear he believes in the education of all children.”
Specifically, Mr. Bradley’s plan proposes that:
- Within four years, states must ensure that there is a qualified teacher in every Title I classroom. States could use federal funds for incentives such as signing bonuses or additional teacher training for teachers who need to complete their certification.
- States must have a 10-year plan to improve student performance on reading and math exams, and must close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers.
States must allow disadvantaged students in low-performing schools the option of transferring to a better public school.
Meanwhile, it would provide:
- An additional $8 billion a year for Title I, doubling the current spending level;
- $500 million, up from $145 million, for charter schools;
- $1.3 billion for Mr. Bradley’s “Teach To Reach” program, which would recruit teachers through scholarships, loan forgiveness, alternative certification, and partnerships with higher education institutions;
- $2 billion to states to improve early- childhood education; and
- $1 billion for after-school programs.
Mr. Bradley stressed that his plan would attach more strings to those dollars.
“Money from Washington should no longer be a one-way street, with money going in and then being forgotten,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2000 edition of Education Week as Bradley Promises Results in Address On Education