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Education Record Shines for Clinton

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IF the presidential campaign lens reflected more on Democratic candidate Bill Clinton's issues than on his character, the Arkansas governor says, his experience as a state leader would shine brightly.

Governor Clinton is particularly proud of his record as an educational reformer in the poor, rural South. He says his work there demonstrates what he can accomplish across the United States.

Near rock-bottom of the nation's state economies, Arkansas has suffered from the country's worst economic ills: a poorly educated work force, inadequate research and development to bolster industry in highly competitive markets, and insufficient capital to start up new firms and expand those that exist.

Struggling not to fall further behind, Arkansas and other poor Southern states enacted watershed education reform legislation during the 1980s. Clinton faced the greatest challenge.

When he took office in 1979, education expenditures, teacher salaries, and the percentage of college graduates were the lowest in the nation. He saw poor educational standards and a low-skilled work force as the primary obstacles to economic development.

Through tax hikes Clinton boosted education spending and raised teachers' salaries and he tried to weed out incompetent teachers by mandating certification tests, notes David Osborne, who documented Clinton's and other governors' efforts in his book "Laboratories of Democracy: A New Breed of Governor Creates Models for National Growth."

Clinton has also tried to lure international corporations to the state with a host of investment incentives and low Arkansan wages. He argued that a broader tax base would provide more funding for education.

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