- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Vice President Al Gore Thursday proposed a tax credit for after-school expenses as part of an initiative to help working families.

In a Nashville, Tenn., speech, the Democratic presidential contender also said he wants every school to stay open late and for the government to "dramatically" increase funding for school-based programs known as "21st Century Learning Centers." They help communities provide after-school and summer-school programs.

Details and a price tag for the proposals were not immediately available, but the vice president has said he would devote $115 billion of expected federal budget surpluses to educational programs.

Mr. Gore's Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, too, has been promoting education initiatives in an effort that polls have shown appeals to women.

Separately, Mr. Gore was talking with Democratic leaders from 34 states in a meeting that comes as the vice president's poll numbers remain weak and some party officials are questioning the low-key campaign he has run since sealing the Democratic nomination in early March.

During a two-day meeting in the city where Mr. Gore's campaign is based, the Democratic state chairmen and vice chairmen were hearing from not only the candidate, but his campaign manager, Donna Brazile; Joe Andrew, general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and other Gore campaign staffers and strategists.

"We did something with mayors around the country in March. This is part of our effort to work closely with people in communities across the country to build support for the party and the ticket," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway.

Asked Wednesday if he worries about his poll numbers against Mr. Bush, Gore said on a National Public Radio call-in show that he does not pay much heed to polls. He also said he would not change campaign strategy to improve his numbers.

"I am not trying to have an impact on the polls," Mr. Gore told interviewer Diane Rehm on her radio program. "I am trying to get a message across to the people."

When asked if he was having difficulty in getting that message to voters, he replied, "The process of communication that takes place in a campaign is not best analyzed on a daily or hourly basis."

In his speech Thursday, Mr. Gore said more after-school programs are needed to help single parents and working families. He cited a Justice Department report stating that young people are at the greatest risk of being victimized by violence between the hours of 3 p.m.-7 p.m. the after-school hours when many working parents leave their children unattended.

"Government doesn't raise children, families do," Mr. Gore said in his remarks. "But we can make it easier not harder to be a strong family."

Mr. Gore proposed:

• Expanding "21st Century Learning Centers" so that every child in a failing school will get extra help. Participating schools would have to demonstrate their programs help students meet standards.

• Offering a new refundable after-school tax credit for families with children age 6 to 16. Building off the nonrefundable child and dependent care tax credit, which is limited to children through age 12, it would provide up to a 50-percent credit for after-school expenses.

• Challenging every school to extend its hours while requiring every state to establish a single system of facility standards for school buildings during the day and after school.

• Creating an after-school quality fund, which would be tapped to recruit and train staff for after-school programs. The vice president would also help expand after-school and mentoring programs such as the YMCA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

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