Renewed commitment to the tree of learning
WITH George Bush headed for the White House and the Congress still firmly under Democratic control, America faces a unique opportunity to heal the wounds of a bitter election contest by retaining the commitment to education that was a central campaign issue for both candidates. Mr. Bush wanted to be remembered as ``the education President.'' Michael Dukakis wanted to be ``the No. 1 advocate for good schools and good teaching.'' What better way for the new president and the new Congress to realize both mens' goals than by transforming the pithy sound-bites of the campaign into solid educational programs essential to the United States' continuing strength.
Bush is already making good upon his promise. His reappointment of Lauro Cavazos as secretary of education and his recent reaffirmation of the need to build up the nation's human capital and revitalize its scientific and technological base are positive steps toward that end.
But there is more to do. Here are some of the key education issues Bush, Mr. Cavazos, and Congress should address:
Youth-at-risk: Members of minority groups will represent one-third of the new entrants to the labor force between now and the year 2000, yet their educational participation and attainment at virtually every level still lag behind those of whites.
Let's make good on both candidates' concern for all young people at risk by fully funding Head Start and Chapter 1 Compensatory Education Programs. These are programs of proven value, the benefits of which we have seen again this year in the upturn in minority student SAT scores.
By spending $11 billion to extend Head Start and Chapter 1 to all eligible children, we could save many times that amount later on through reduced remedial education, lower welfare and law enforcement costs, and increased worker employability and productivity.
Lifelong learning: The nation is currently replacing jobs at a rate of 10 percent per year and redefining half of the available jobs every five years. As candidates, both Bush and Dukakis recognized that workers will require not only a higher level of skills, but also the ability to adapt to the challenges of a dynamic economy. Both advocated lifelong education and training.
Let's expand programs like the Job Training Partnership Act and the Worker Adjustment Program, as Bush suggested. Let's work vigorously to combat illiteracy, which now affects as many as 27 million Americans nationwide, and let's consider financing such initiatives, as Mr. Dukakis suggested, in part by federal matching grants.
These should not be either-or choices. We need both kinds of programs if we are to regain our place in the world's markets and give all Americans the means by which to live satisfying lives.
Student financial aid: Both candidates supported the current system of grants, loans, and work-study opportunities and proposed several new or expanded programs to help families meet the cost of college.
Bush's key new proposal was the College Savings Bond Program, which would make the interest on savings bonds tax-free if they were used for college expenses. A variant of that proposal was recently signed into law by President Reagan as part of legislation designed to correct errors in the 1986 tax-reform bill.
The centerpiece of Dukakis's plan was the Student Tuition and Repayment System, a reincarnation of an idea first proposed by conservative economist Milton Friedman more than a generation ago. Bush suggested expanding the income contingent loan program set up on a pilot basis by the Reagan administration.
Dukakis advocated an expansion of state-run ``tuition futures'' programs, like those in Massachusetts, Michigan, and elsewhere, which guarantee tuition in exchange for a lump-sum payment in a child's early years. He envisioned federal help in encouraging reciprocity among the different states.
Now that the heat of the campaign has abated, let's give all these proposals a full and fair hearing, while embracing what both candidates said was a worthy national goal: No one, qualified for and admitted to college, should be denied the opportunity to attend because of lack of financial support.
Teaching as a profession: Both candidates recognized the central role of teachers in educational quality. Dukakis proposed a National Teaching Excellence Fund - estimated to require a $250 million federal investment in the first year - for teacher training and enrichment programs and to recruit new teachers, especially from minority groups. Bush proposed giving $500 million a year to schools that serve substantial numbers of economically disadvantaged students or that have improved substantially in recent years.
The right mix and amount of federal assistance and encouragement is something the new president and Congress should decide together, but we can be grateful to both candidates for acknowledging a clear federal role in what has traditionally been viewed as a state and local problem.
Research: The Democrats advocated an increased federal investment in civilian research-and-development activities and in science, engineering, and mathematics training. The Republicans proposed a host of useful initiatives - from upgrading university laboratories to strengthening the president's science adviser, to making permanent the tax credit for corporate research and development.
Both candidates clearly recognized the urgent need to shore up scientific and technological foundations to ensure the quality of our educational enterprise, our national security, our economic health, and our overall well-being. Let's reflect those priorities when putting together the federal budget for fiscal year 1990.
Despite the negatives of the recent campaign, Bush and Dukakis accomplished what few other presidential candidates have achieved. They made development of human resources - beginning in the earliest years of childhood and extending for a lifetime - a major national priority. Let's keep it that way.