- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

When Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley announced his public- schools plan for Virginia last week, vouchers were conspicuously absent from it.
Instead, Mr. Earley is touting a modified tuition tax-credit bill that would let companies and individuals contribute — in exchange for a tax deduction to not-for-profit scholarship funds set up for students who attend private schools or who are schooled at home.
Mr. Earley's opponent, Democrat Mark R. Warner, supports neither vouchers nor the tax-credit plan and so far that's the clearest distinction between the two men on education.
Yesterday, Mr. Warner released the third installment of his education plan, matching Mr. Earley's pledge to raise teacher salaries to the national average by the end of his term. Both men also have promised to increase parental involvement, and each has committed to $1 billion for construction on state college and university campuses.
There are differences of emphasis, however. Mr. Earley is committed to mentoring as a concept, while Mr. Warner has proposed more options for vocational and technical education. But for now, the plans of the two men look so similar that the campaigns and their surrogates have been left to argue over who is more committed to getting things done.
"It's disingenuous for a candidate to say now that he wants teacher salaries to be at the national average when he has spent half his adult life in public office, where he could have done something about it," Mr. Warner said, taking a swipe last week at Mr. Earley's education plan. He also said Mr. Earley should have pushed fellow Republicans in the administration earlier and harder to include teacher salaries in this year's budget.
But the Earley camp said his five children are in public schools now — and the sixth is almost old enough to join them — showing Mr. Earley's commitment. A spokesman said there's no real difference between the two candidates.
"He parroted everything we announced on the 19th of June," said David Botkins, a spokesman for Mr. Earley's campaign. "Clearly, our rolling out our education plan last week caught the Warner camp off guard, so they conducted a hurry-up press conference today."
The Virginia Education Association also didn't see a difference between the two candidates on salaries or class size. In its political action committee's endorsement letter last week, the teachers union said it doesn't have faith that it could be done anyway, given the state's budget crunch.
But the union endorsed Mr. Warner over Mr. Earley, citing Mr. Warner's positions on contract and retirement issues. It also criticized Mr. Earley's support of school-choice plans.
Mr. Earley, who was on record in favor in his 1997 campaign for attorney general, surprised the VEA when at a recent conference he said he doesn't support vouchers.
"We were all kind of taken aback by it," said Kelly Burk, a Loudoun County educator, who also ran for the state House of Delegates as a Democrat two years ago.
Mr. Earley says the difference is in the details.
"I think vouchers are problematic because of the door that it opens to governmental involvement and dictation of policy to private institutions and parochial institutions," Mr. Earley says. He said the tax-credit route is preferable, because it avoids a potential entanglement of church and state. His running mate, Delegate Jay Katzen, who is seeking the lieutenant governor's slot, was the chief sponsor of the tax-credit bill in this year's General Assembly.
The Family Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association, two groups that are leading the fight for school choice in Virginia, support tax credits rather than vouchers. Both say vouchers lead to government control. They fear that schools that take vouchers could be forced to submit to the Standards of Learning tests, for example.

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