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WASHINGTON —  The presidential race is heating up, but so far most candidates are not spending much time on higher education issues.
Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley and Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain have been locked in heated primary debates, yet education issues are not often on the front burner.
The problem is particularly acute among the GOP.
“I haven’t heard them say anything more than, ‘I’m for education.’ But they all will have to do more than that,” says Dr. Henry Ponder, executive director of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education here.
In fact, when candidates raise education issues, most talk about K-12, observers say. As a result, few have offered new proposals on higher education.
The lack of higher education attention is a cause of concern for some advocates. “We are seeing a K-12 agenda without a lot on higher ed,” says J. Noah Brown, public policy director for the Association of Community College Trustees.
Among the front-runners, Gore has emphasized K-12 over higher education so far. However, he played a critical role in Clinton administration policy, which led to the creation of GEAR UP and the HOPE Scholarship, among other initiatives. Bush, though “generally supportive” of education in Texas, according to Brown, has devoted little attention to college issues while on the campaign trail. More states will conduct primaries and caucuses this month, which will help shape campaign themes heading into the summer party conventions.
 Here is a summary of campaign views so far:

Vice President Al Gore, D
Gore has proposed a $115 billion education reform trust fund, and central themes are universal preschool, smaller high school classes, a higher quality of teachers and more school-construction funds. For higher education, Gore has proposed grants to high-need school districts so students can have access to Advanced Placement tests. His other higher education focus is expanded tax credits and savings accounts so families can pay for college.
On affirmative action: Gore has denounced efforts such as Proposition 209 in California and Initiative 200 in Washington state that have essentially eliminated affirmative action programs. According to a campaign statement, Gore “firmly believes that America needs equal opportunity and that our country has benefited by the strength of its diversity.”

Former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.
Bradley has talked about a 10-year, $175 billion education fund, again with a strong K-12 focus. More early childhood partnerships, improved teacher training and after-school programs are popular initiatives. On higher education, Bradley has proposed a $2 billion investment in community colleges to provide more flexible course schedules and support services such as child care, plus flexible college loan repayment programs.
On affirmative action: Bradley says he has always been uncompromising in his support of affirmative action. “Affirmative action is not about unfair advantage, but instead about offering everyone an equal opportunity to get ahead. Minority Americans do not want special treatment,” Bradley responded to an Iowa Dubuque questionnaire. “They want the same opportunities as everyone else has. Affirmative action helps provide these equal opportunities by recognizing and responding to barriers created by race.”

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R
The longtime GOP frontrunner emphasizes the need to cut the educational bureaucracy. Other initiatives include rewards for schools that raise achievement and expanded savings accounts to help parents pay for college.
On affirmative action: Bush says he opposes quotas and racial preferences, instead supporting “affirmative access” through programs such as Texas and California’s 10 percent plan, where those who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class are guaranteed admittance to state colleges and universities.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:
McCain favors spending on education but is taking aim at what he terms “Washington bureaucrats.” The senator says schools need power, money and flexibility to carry out their goals. Similar to Bush, he also supports more options to help families save for college.
On affirmative action: McCain says he opposes quotas unless they are judicially ordered to address specific discrimination. He also says the federal government should have aggressive outreach programs to assure equal opportunity and access in contracting and employment, but that federal contract set-asides should be focused on economic disadvantage without respect to race or ethnicity.  

—Charles Dervarics and Jamilah Evelyn

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