Vice President Al Gore came to Texas to denounce the quality of the state's schools and suggest Republican Gov. George W. Bush is to blame.
While not specifically naming his presidential rival in remarks at a fund-raiser, Gore said: "The teachers are doing their job. The principals are doing their job. They're working hard to make it work, but it hasn't had the leadership or the priority."
Earlier Wednesday, from 76-year-old Crockett Elementary School, Gore's criticism of Texas education was more subtle.
He highlighted the physical condition of the school, taking note of cracks in buildings, the use of portable classrooms to ease crowding and problems with plumbing and electrical wiring.
Gore declared the problem of deteriorating schools "particularly bad here in this state."
He touted the Clinton administration's proposal for $24.8 billion in interest-free bonds over two years for local public school modernization and chided Republicans in Congress for not supporting the measure.
Bush plans to outline his education agenda in three major policy addresses this month, beginning with a speech Thursday in Los Angeles.
The vice president is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and could face Bush in next year's general election.
"Three out of four schools here need to improve or repair a building. Six out of 10 report an environmental problem like poor air quality. This is air children are breathing," Gore said at Crockett, in a poor Hispanic section of San Antonio.
Meeting with selected students and teachers, Gore cited more statistics intended to disparage Bush's education record, although he never criticized his potential GOP rival by name.
However, aides worked to make sure reporters did not miss the point that Bush was the real target of Gore's remarks.
Given the poor physical state of schools, Gore said, "maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Texas scores below the national average on SATs, or that 40 percent of Texas' students are unprepared when they start college or that Hispanic college preparedness is lagging so far behind that a recent report called it a 'massive failure of education in Texas.'"
Later, Gore told reporters education is a crucial issue for Hispanic voters all over the country.
Bush's campaign spokeswoman, Mindy Tucker, responded to Gore's criticism by noting that Texas has closed the "achievement gap" between poor and better-off students faster during the governor's tenure than most other states.
Black 4th- and 8th-grade state reading test scores are up 23 points since 1994, she said, and Hispanic 8th-grade math test scores are up 40 points.
Tucker added that Bush pushed for and signed a bill providing $400 million to help school districts pay off bond debt, money that leveraged $5 billion in new classroom construction.