Students undecided about candidates’ education plans

For many Northwestern students, the education proposals of presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore can’t be isolated from other election issues. It’s all about their context.

Both candidates have focused on education in this campaign — Bush has logged more than 100 school visits — and tout proposals ranging from savings accounts to increased grants.

Gore has proposed making two years of college free, with a plan including a tax credit for as much as $10,000 in tuition payments. Bush has proposed making some pre-paid tuition savings accounts tax exempt.

Both candidates want to increase money for federal grants, with Bush suggesting increasing the maximum amount for a Pell Grant for first year students by more than 50 percent to $5,100 increase. He also would add $1,000 to Pell Grants for low-income students who take rigorous math and science courses in high school.

Weinberg junior John Lower said these plans alone don’t tell the whole story and can be evaluated only in terms of the candidates’ entire platforms.

Lower agreed with Gore’s education proposals but didn’t agree with the rest of Gore’s policies. Lower said he liked Bush’s education plan because “achievement has to be rewarded.”

NU political science Prof. Kenneth Janda agreed the plans cannot be evaluated without a close analysis.

“This is something that requires a good deal of study,” Janda said. “Is this person expanding the role of government in education and, if so, how are they doing it?”

History graduate student Carol Konrad agreed that the plans’ context is more important than their details. The candidates’ funding increases seem great as separate programs, she said, but the consequences of spending more on grants and funding would have to be considered.

And education plans that greatly increase funding may not be practical, Speech senior Eric Eatherly said.

“In theory, it’s a good way to bring (college) costs back down,” he said.

Eatherly said Bush’s Pell Grant increase might not be the most efficient way to promote college education because of its limited scope.

“Why don’t we also try to come up with other ways to help a greater percentage of the population?” he asked.

According to Alison Friedman, national student coordinator for Gore’s campaign, the best feature of Gore’s plan is how it helps the people who need it most.

“George Bush’s (education) record in Texas is abominable,” she said. “He opts with his education plan, as with his tax plan, to benefit the people who need it least: the upper class and the phenomenally wealthy.”

Scott Stewart, chairman of the College Republicans National Committee, said Bush’s plan covers a wider range of students.

“All students from kindergarten all the way through the college level will be affected by George W. Bush’s plan,” he said. “His tax relief opportunities are extraordinary.”

Cameron Bill, a Speech senior, said both plans were essentially equal.

“Gore’s is fair because it gives to everybody, but Bush’s is fair because it’s for those who need it most,” he said.

But Bill said the trade-offs between mass education spending and the potential cut in funding for other programs still was of concern.

“Nothing’s for free,” he said.