Gore offers accountability plan for schools

PHILADELPHIA - Taking a page from his rival's education plan, Vice President Al Gore says the federal government should withhold federal money from states that fail to improve test scores.

The vice president, traveling to Dallas today, finds himself in the heart of George W. Bush's home state and at the centerpiece of the Texas governor's education plan.

While Bush's education plan spends far less than Gore's, Bush argues that the core of his vision is accountability, not dollars.

Now Gore, too, has a plan that aggressively rewards and punishes schools based on the test scores of their students.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane denied that the vice president's plan, being unveiled in a speech to the Conference of Black Mayors, was a response to his all-but-certain presidential opponent.

''A good campaign continues to expand on good ideas,'' Lehane said Thursday.

He noted that Gore had already proposed some accountability measures, but today's announcement goes further.

Like Bush, Gore now favors withholding some Title 1 dollars meant to help poor students from states that fail to improve student test scores and close the gap between disadvantaged and other students. Gore would apply similar standards to other education grants, redirecting the money to failing schools.

Bush would go farther, at least in the Title 1 program, pulling money from individual schools that fail to improve. He would turn the money over to parents in $1,500 vouchers that could be used for students to attend private schools.

Gore opposes vouchers, arguing they would drain away money needed for public schools.

Under the plan being outlined today, Gore would require states to set standards and identify failing schools. If these schools do not improve within two years, they would be closed and then reopened under new leadership.

To help these schools turn around, Gore is offering $500 million per year to pay for reform plans. He would also direct after-school money to students at these schools and give the schools first crack at other education funding.

The vice president has already laid out a $115 billion, 10-year plan to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, enrolling more kids in preschool, tripling the number of charter schools, and recruiting new teachers through scholarships and signing bonuses. He would also help districts finance new school construction and improvements to deteriorating buildings.

But new spending isn't enough, Gore says.

''More money is only part of the solution,'' said summary of the plan. ''We also need to demand more from our students, our teachers and our schools.''

Hunting for votes from moderate voters, Bush has taken on education, health care and a number of other traditionally Democratic issues.

On education, Bush has broken with other Republicans, calling for more, not less, federal spending. He has a $5.5 billion, five-year plan that would give families tax breaks to save for college, vouchers to pay for after-school programs and rewards to schools that improve test scores.

On Thursday, Gore attacked Bush's approach to health care, saying he would his plan provides too little money and would help too few people. Today, Gore was going after him on education.

''George W. Bush may look good in comparison to Newt Gingrich on these issues merely because he talks about them,'' Lehane said, invoking the controversial former House speaker. ''Compared to Al Gore, it's not even a close contest.''

Gore's accountability plan also would:

-Give bonuses to districts and schools that reduce their high-school dropout rate.

-Pay for signing bonuses to attract new principals and teachers to schools that are shut down and need to be reopened with new leadership.

-Measure progress based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which many states already use.

On Thursday, Gore was in Pittsburgh, pitching his plan to enroll more children and their parents into the Children's Health Insurance Program. He also raised more than $1 million for the Democratic National Committee, first at a Pittsburgh lunch and later at a Philadelphia reception and dinner.


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