School Daze on Campaign Trail

Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush hit college campuses Thursday as they campaigned on the year's No. 1 issue: education.

At the University of Maryland student union, Gore spoke about his $2,800 a year tax credit for families with students in college.

Bush, meanwhile, went to Dillard University, a black college in New Orleans, where he said as president he would increase federal aid to black and "Hispanic-serving" colleges by more than $600 million over five years.

Doing Their Homework?
George W. Bush and Al Gore both say fixing America's schools is a top priority. But some teachers and students are afraid neither candidate has done his homework.

The Texas governor has been hitting the education issue hard all week – Monday in Iowa, Tuesday in Illinois and Missouri, Wednesday in Texas – as he tries to chip away at the Democrats' traditional edge among black voters. On Thursday, he was accompanied by J.C. Watts, a black congressman from Oklahoma, and, it seems, the only member of his party's congressional leadership with whom Bush will be seen in public.

Most of Bush's education platform applies to elementary schools and high schools, where he favors vouchers, Head Start and linking federal funding for public schools to student performance.

The Bush higher-education agenda includes raising the ceiling on tax-free education savings from $500 to $5,000 a year; an additional $1,000 Pell grants for college students who took Advanced Placement math and science; and $17,500 in loan forgiveness for college students who commit to teaching math or science in needy areas for five years after graduation.

Gore's plan for making higher education more accessible comprises new tax-free 401(J) savings accounts capped at $2,500 a year, and a tuition write-off of up to $2,800 a year.

Earlier in the week, Bush conceded for the first time that he needs to a better job of selling the $1.3 trillion tax cut that's the cornerstone of his economic plan.

Central casting could not have provided a more attractive sales team than the Bechacs of Mandeville, Louisiana, who own a home, live on a single salary of $40,000 and pay $2,075 a year in taxes. Parents Andrew and Margaret flanked Bush in the airport, each holding a well-behaved little girl in a pink dress.

Bush was so locked onto showinhow much money his tax cut will save the Bechacs that he cut off Andrew, who was holding forth like a professional political surrogate, and corrected his math: "Actually it's $1,600."

Asked by a reporter on the plane en route to Louisiana about the indifference of poll respondents to his tax cut, Bush snapped, "It may not show up in this survey you read, but it's going to show up in the guy's wallet."