Bob Dole Supports Excellence in Education

Article excerpt

Education reform must be a vital part of our effort to build a better America and prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. Like most Americans, I believe in public education, but I recognize that many of our schools are failing to serve the public good. Students must graduate from high school with a firm grounding in basic academic subjects and a sense of right and wrong. Too many of our schools do not accomplish even these most basic tasks.

My educational philosophy is fundamentally different from Bill Clinton's. I want to help children and their parents, the consumers of education, by unleashing the creativity of reformers at the state and local levels. Bill Clinton is a friend of the teacher unions and of the education establishment. His Administration's policies foster unnecessary federal interference in our schools. I believe academic excellence should be our goal, not the latest politically correct fads - from self-esteem theory to invented spelling.

I believe the federal government should be giving fewer orders and providing more options. In July I announced a $2.5 billion initiative that will give four million low- and middle-income families the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children.

The Opportunity Scholarships for Children initiative is patterned after the GI Bill and the Pell grants. It is a cooperative federal, state, and local effort to promote school choice - paid for by $2.5 billion in federal funds and matched by $2.5 billion in state funds. Four-year, competitive grants would be awarded to children from low- and middle-income families in up to 15 states, including the District of Columbia. The scholarships would be at least $1,000 per child in elementary school and $1,500 per child in high school. States could add more money if they wished. The dollars would follow the child to the school his or her parents chose.

This demonstration program could help fund scholarships for more than four million children - nearly 10% of all children in elementary and secondary schools. The scholarship funds could be used for tuition and school fees. Money for this initiative would come from existing U.S. Department of Education funds and from cuts in the Clinton Administration's proposed budget. The Congress and the nation's governors would direct a comprehensive evaluation by examining the impact of the program on academic achievement and school safety.

As with the Pell grants and the GI Bill for veterans, students would be free to use the scholarship funds to attend any school of their choice: public, private, or religious. We have choice and competition in higher education now, and it works. We should try choice and competition in elementary and secondary schools.

There are about 81,000 public schools and about 26,000 private schools in the U.S. Some 51% of private school students attend Catholic schools. The average cost of attending a Catholic elementary school in New York City, for example, is $2,500. Scholarships of $1,000 or $1,500 would go a long way toward covering the costs of most Catholic and other faith-based schools in urban areas. Catholic school students graduate at a higher rate than public school students, and they score higher on the SAT. These schools emphasize the most important principles: academics, morals, and discipline.

The Clinton Administration's response to the Opportunity Scholarships for Children proposal has been demagogic. One Clinton Administration spokesman said, "Bob Dole wants to tear down public education by pitting teachers against parents and dramatically reducing our investments in public education." This is non-sense, Throughout my career, I have strongly supported public education. My wife and I attended public schools, and I went to college on the GI Bill. I want other Americans to have the same type of choices that I had - and that the Clintons and the Gores have today for their children.

The Clinton Administration's rhetoric tells us that it is not interested in a serious debate about the substance of education reform. …