Dole wants U.S. scholarship aid for students to attend any school He targets lower-income pupils on elementary and secondary levels

July 19, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- Calling the drive for school choice the "civil rights movement for the '90s," Bob Dole yesterday proposed partial federal scholarships for poor and middle-class students to attend private or parochial schools.

The Republican presidential candidate likened his plan to the military's GI Bill, which he and other veterans used to attend college without restrictions on whether they were public, private or religious institutions.

"I want all of our children to have the same opportunities as we did," he told supporters at Cardinal Stritch College, a Roman Catholic school in the Milwaukee suburbs. "Some families already have school choice. They have it because they have the money. They have it because they have power, maybe some office or prestige.

"But what about low-income children and middle-income children? If you're thinking about equality of opportunity and fairness, this is something we can do now."

Dole unveiled his scholarship program, which would provide $1,000 per year for elementary and junior high students and $1,500 for high schoolers, on the second day of a Midwest swing that's so far focused on education.

"We have choice and competition in our higher education system, and not surprisingly we have the best colleges and universities in the world," he said.

"But if you look at elementary and secondary education, you find an education monopoly that often fails in its mission because there is no competition and not enough drive for excellence."

Dole defined the "education monopoly" as teachers unions and federal bureaucrats who have resisted efforts to use tax money for private and parochial schools.

He charged Wednesday in Minnesota that President Clinton is a "pliant pet" of teachers unions because Clinton also has resisted school choice initiatives unless they apply solely to public schools.

The president objects to the use of tax money for private and parochial schools because he fears it would undermine the public education system by eroding its source of funds.

But he has backed federal funds for "charter schools," which are set up cooperatively by parents, students and community leaders.

Of the Dole proposal, Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said: "This is just more bashing teachers and more slashing funds from public education; it is not an education plan for our future."

Clinton also has laid claim to the education issue. Last month he offered students a $1,500 tax credit for the first two years of college. In addition, he recently promised schools billions of dollars to make building repairs and design programs to stop truancy and violence.

To finance his proposal, Dole said he would ask Congress to approve $2.5 billion a year, with an equal sum of matching money coming from the states that choose to participate.

The federal money would be transferred from existing education funds, including GOALS 2000, a program to upgrade schools proposed by President George Bush -- and pushed through Congress by Clinton -- that the Republican-led Congress is trying to eliminate.

Dole announced his scholarship plan here because Milwaukee is one of the first cities to establish a school choice program, giving students vouchers to attend public or private schools.

Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, who appeared with Dole yesterday, hopes to expand the Milwaukee program statewide, but has run into resistance because he wants it to apply to religious schools as well.

The state's highest court has blocked extension of the program to religious schools, but the ruling is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lamar Alexander, one of two former U.S. education secretaries traveling with Dole, said Dole would not wait for that ruling to implement his program if he is elected president. The Dole plan leaves it up to each state to decide whether private and parochial schools -- or even home schooling -- would be included, though preference would be given to broader initiatives.

"If it's going to work, it has to work across the board," Dole said at a discussion of his proposal yesterday afternoon at the Henry Ford Center in suburban Detroit. "We need competition."

The Dole proposal is similar to one offered by Bush that was never adopted by Congress.

This new version is more ambitious, calling for $10 billion in federal spending over four years, enough to provide scholarships for 4 million children in 15 states.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

lTC

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