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Alexander Lays Out Education Reform Agenda


LACONIA, N.H. (AllPolitics, Feb. 17) -- One year after finishing third in the nation's first presidential primary, former Tennessee GOP Gov. Lamar Alexander returned to the Granite State to lay out an expansive vision of education reform, and to hammer President Bill Clinton's record.

Clinton laid out a 10-point education plan in his State of Union address Feb. 4, and said improving America's schools would be his number one priority. Clinton focused on instituting national standards, rebuilding school infrastructure, and providing greater financial support for the first two years of college.

But Alexander took issue with the president's proposals, and said after four years in the White House, Clinton deserved a "D" on education. "Not one state's school system meets the needs of its children," Alexander told a crowd of 250 at the annual Belknap County Republican Committee Lincoln Day dinner.

A former secretary of education under George Bush, Alexander laid out a detailed plan for improving America's schools:

  • Replace the federal bureaucracy with a "GI bill for kids" that gives middle and low-income children vouchers to attend accredited schools.

  • Allow a constitutional amendment to authorize voluntary school prayer, since "religion is the chief transmitter of American values."

  • Increase pay for good teachers, while ending tenure.

  • "Recharter" each school, freeing them from union and government rules and court orders to "let teachers teach."

  • Wage a "serious" war on drugs, since "it's hard to have a safe school in an unsafe neighborhood."

  • Halt busing on racial grounds, "so we can have neighborhood schools again."

  • Keep schools open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. all year.

  • Integrate home schooling with public schooling.

Alexander said Republicans must tell Americans what they're for, not just what they're against.

"Everybody thinks all we can talk about is ending the Department of Education," he said. "We don't need it, but what we ought to be saying is: 'Here's what we'll do: We'll create neighborhood schools and give teachers freedom to teach and parents choices of schools.'"

Alexander's proposals aren't exactly new, however. Most have been proposed previously by Republicans and stalled in the face of strong opposition from Democrats and teachers' unions. Last year, GOP nominee Bob Dole proposed allowing greater school choice and criticized teachers' unions, which many Democrats said amounted to an attack on teachers.

Attending Alexander's speech were New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith (R) and Republican Reps. Charles Bass and John E. Sununu. Alexander has said it is "fairly likely" he will run for president again in 2000, and supporters passed out bumper stickers after his talk.

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