Election Notebook

October 13, 1999 2 min read

Bush Outlines Broad Testing Plan for Schools

Texas Gov. George W. Bush wants state education systems nationwide to get the same ultimatum he’s given his state’s schools: Improve student performance or risk losing funds.

In the second of three planned education policy speeches, the front-runner for next year’s Republican presidential nomination said he would require states to test all students from the 3rd grade through the 8th grade in reading and mathematics as a condition for receiving federal aid.

States that did not show progress would lose the 5 percent of their federal grants that they now spend on administrative costs, Mr. Bush said in an Oct. 5 speech at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank in New York City.

For states that improved student scores, Mr. Bush would award bonuses from a new, $100 million “Achievement in Education” fund he envisions.

Gov. Bush also proposed:

  • Merging 60 federal programs--most of them under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--into five funds addressing general needs such as improving achievement of disadvantaged children and creating safe schools;
  • Allowing parents to open education savings accounts that would accumulate tax-free interest and could be used to pay for private school tuition; and
  • Creating a $2 billion Charter School Homestead Act to lend money to the publicly funded but largely independent schools.

In an earlier speech, Mr. Bush said he would take away schools’ grants under the $8 billion Title I program if their students failed to make progress under state testing systems. He would transfer the money into vouchers that parents could use to pay for public, private, or religious schooling. (“Bush Zeroes In on Accountability for Federal K-12 Funds,” Sept. 8, 1999.)

Mr. Bush said his latest proposal would not create new national tests, an idea that Congress blocked when President Clinton proposed it. Instead, the plan would rely on the tests states choose.

But he would require states to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress--a sampling of student achievement that states currently volunteer to join.

And the Bush plan would entail a significant expansion of testing mandates under federal law. The current Title I program requires schools to test students three times between the 3rd and 12th grades.

In his speech, Mr. Bush quoted Albert Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, as an advocate of high standards.

The 1 million-member union that Mr. Shanker led for 22 years was not impressed. On the same day as the Republican governor’s speech, the AFT’s executive council announced its endorsement of Vice President Al Gore, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 2000 race.

The teachers’ union acted ahead of the AFL-CIO, of which it is a member. The labor group may endorse a candidate at its biennial convention this week in Los Angeles.

Later in the week, the National Education Association’s Board of Directors threw its support behind the vice president when it officially recommended its 2.4 million members vote for him.

Separately, Mr. Gore seized on a current Republican theme on Oct. 4 when he visited a New Hampshire middle school and called for more federal aid for special education.

Bill Bradley--the vice president’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination--released his plan for a $2 billion-a-year program to underwrite early education. It would be modeled after North Carolina’s Smart Start program.

Improving care and education for preschoolers is a component of Mr. Bradley’s broader proposal to aid working families.

--David J. Hoff

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