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WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND ON EDUCATION. The federal government provides some money to America's schools. More important, the president can set the tone for the nation's commitment to education. Eighth in a series on the candidates and the issues. DUKAKIS

`WE don't need `star wars,' we need star schools.'' That may be one of the more memorable lines from Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign. It promises a reordering in the priorities of the eight-year Reagan administration. The statement also suggests one of the premises of the Dukakis run for the presidency: that Americans are ready for a more activist role by the federal government in the domestic arena, including education.

On Monday night Governor Dukakis said he would improve the nation's secondary schools partly by tying some federal funding to improved academic performance. He offered the plan at a town meeting at a San Francisco-area high school, telling residents, ``I don't know of anything that cries out more for presidential leadership'' than education.

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But the domestic economy and international security will preoccupy whoever takes over the presidency next year, and the Reagan administration has reduced, through budget cuts, the role of the federal government in the nation's schools. So it appears unlikely that education will play more than a secondary role in any administration.

Dukakis has outlined some specific ways in which he would use both the Department of Education and increased federal spending to improve education. In those specifics he focuses on teachers - especially the need for programs that can help draw ``well-prepared, enthusiastic, intellectually engaged teachers'' into the profession and keep them there.

More generally, Dukakis refers often to a need for more of the public-private, business-school partnerships that have been a cornerstone of his Massachusetts administration. Acknowledging the preeminence of state and local officials in setting education policy, Dukakis says - perhaps taking a swipe at the combative former Secretary of Education William Bennett - ``It's time [state and local educators] had a partner in Washington.''

Saying that he recognizes the constraining effect the national deficit will have on new spending, Dukakis reduces his immediate priorities for education to three areas:

Attracting and retaining good teachers. Dukakis proposes a $250 million ``National Teaching Excellence Fund,'' to focus on what he calls the 3 R's of teaching: recruitment, renewal, and recognition. Included would be scholarships for students planning to become teachers, repayable if they go into another profession; funding for ``professional development centers'' to encourage renewal of teaching skills; and fellowships for outstanding teachers.

The fund would also finance a revival and restructuring of the Teacher Corps program, designed to recruit college students to teach in disadvantaged urban and rural schools.

Dukakis says one of the goals of the corps would be to attract minorities to teaching.

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Eliminating adult illiteracy. Dukakis would create a $25 million Citizens Literacy Corps, whereby states would provide seed grants, matched by the private sector, to team adult education specialists with volunteers.

Making a college education available to all qualified students. In addition to encouraging states to set up tuition savings or prepayment plans, Dukakis would create a new program under which loans could be repaid over a student's employed life through paycheck deductions, with an option to pay off the loan at any time.

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