No Matter Who Wins, the Game Will Change: The November 5 Election Will Decide Who Gets to Decide Education Policy

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No Matter Who Wins, The Game Will Change: The November 5 Election Will. Decide Who Gets to Decide Education Policy

Voters may lack enthusiasm for the 1996 election, pollsters and pundits say, but a quick check of presidential and congressional races finds education advocates with plenty of reasons to watch -- and worry -- in the months ahead.

Not only is control of the White House at stake, but also control of Congress, where retirements already will change the makeup of committees that will reauthorize financial aid and other programs under the Higher Education Act (HEA) next year. The future of the Education Department (ED), student aid, and affirmative action also are on the front burner for those claiming victory on Nov. 5.

The election pits different education philosophies against each other, many analysts say. Republicans want more local control, fewer rules, and greater school choice. Democrats talk of more federal funds while still balancing the budget.

The Presidential Race Sets the Tone

The tone of the national campaign comes not from Congress, but from the top of the ticket. Both President Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole are talking about education, but they rarely agree on the details.

Clinton's platform includes scholarships for high-achieving students, college tuition tax credits, and policies to make a community college education open to every American. Dole is focusing more on elementary and secondary education, taking aim at teachers unions as enemies of reform. He also talks about school choice and vouchers to help low-income children attend private schools.

The Republican platform calls for the elimination of ED, despite polls showing strong public support for the department. While Dole also favors termination, GOP lawmakers acknowledge they need a credible alternative -- other than just elimination -- if they want to win public support. They say that their problem with ED is merely one of accountability.

Although Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, stated that eliminating ED "remains a stated goal of our party," Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) and others spoke of the need to devise an alternative to what they consider an overly bureaucratic department -- something that shows they support ED's goals, if not its bureaucracy.

"It is not good enough to simply throw money at programs with the word `education' in them," said Goodling, who chairs the House Economic and Educational Opportunity Committee. "We must spend money wisely on the programs that support quality results."

But there is skepticism from the other side of the aisle.

"The Republican Congress has shown what it wants to do to the Education Department," said Rep. Cleo Fields (D-La.), a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) member who helped establish Congress's new Education Caucus this year, but is not running for reelection.

The long-debated voucher issue hits a surprisingly responsive chord among some more voters, including African Americans. About 48 percent of African Americans favor vouchers in a recent poll. That is higher than the 43-percent support among the general population, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a study group that focuses on issues affecting African Americans. But the voucher issue is not expected to fill voting booths with African Americans who support Dole. According to the center, 85 percent of Blacks say they favor Clinton in the election.

"There is no evidence of any movement toward the Republican Party among Black Americans, as some have suggested," said David Bositis, the center's senior researcher.

While neither presidential candidate has talked much about Higher Education Act reauthorization, the issue most on the minds of the higher education community, Clinton has taken Dole to task for favoring budget cuts in many HEA programs -- including student loans -- as part of last year's GOP balanced budget effort. …