- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

BEAVERTON, Ore. A rejuvenated George W. Bush yesterday pressed his attacks on Vice President Al Gore for failing to take charge of America's future on two fronts: an "education recession" and an energy crisis.

Speaking at an elementary school as new polls show him reversing a recent slide, the Republican presidential nominee criticized the administration for not holding schools responsible for slipping scores in reading, math and science.

"America faces a reading crisis," Mr. Bush said at a town-hall meeting in this swing district. "This is a leading indicator of troubles to come.

"America is in the midst of an education recession," he said.

Mr. Bush's visit to this state that voted Democratic in the past three presidential elections came as a new Rasmussen poll showed him leading Mr. Gore in Oregon by nine points, 45 percent to 36 percent.

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, told the crowd of about 500 in the school's gymnasium that Mr. Bush was honoring a pledge with his fourth campaign stop in Oregon since the primaries.

"The one commitment I wanted from him, he gave me that he would not quit on Oregon," Mr. Smith said. "This man's fighting for us."

The Texas governor appeared more exuberant than in past weeks on the campaign trail.

The audience interrupted him several times with sustained applause and at one point Mr. Bush laughingly shrugged off his host's effort to end the town-hall meeting, declaring, "I refuse to yield."

While the theme of the day was public education, Mr. Bush also intensified his criticism of Mr. Gore for playing politics with the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Mr. Gore asked President Clinton last week to release some of the nation's oil stockpile to lower fuel prices less than seven weeks before the election. Mr. Clinton released 30 million barrels.

Mr. Bush said of high oil prices, "This is a crisis because of a failure of the administration to plan. We are now more dependent than ever before on foreign sources of crude oil."

He said the administration has imposed too many regulations on the industry, discouraging oil companies from investing in refineries and new sources of energy.

"The idea of using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to bail himself out politically, in my judgment, is not wise long-term policy for America," Mr. Bush said. "What we need is less politics and more focus on what's right for America."

As he spoke about an issue that strategists hope will attract more female voters, Mr. Bush said the administration policy on public schools has broken down.

"Since 1992, even as education spending has risen, reading scores have fallen," Mr. Bush said. "Vice President Gore's administration has focused on everything except what matters most. They call for new spending without real reform or accountability. It's like pumping gas into a flooded engine."

The Republican nominee, who wants states to test students each year in grades three through eight, said the administration has offered "fads and fashionable theories."

"Just the other day the secretary of education announced Gore's new 'three R's' for American education relationships, resilience and readiness," Mr. Bush said to guffaws. "That sounds nice. But what happened to reading?"

Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera said Mr. Bush wants to distract voters because "he knows his own education plans are so limited that they would create an education depression, not just a recession."

Mr. Cabrera said Mr. Gore's education proposals are more comprehensive on reducing class sizes and investing in school construction and teacher training.

Mr. Bush yesterday proposed setting a "clear national goal" of spending $5 billion over five years to make sure every student can read at grade level by the third grade. The Republican nominee also proposes to "refocus" the Head Start program to emphasize reading for young children.

"If it takes reading all day long, fine by us," Mr. Bush said. "We're not just going to throw money at the problem."

Although Mr. Bush did not take issue with Mr. Gore for sending his children to private school, his wife, Laura, reminded the audience that she is a former public school teacher and said, "Like most people in America, we sent our children to the local public school."

Mr. Bush said that from 1992 to 1999, the Clinton administration has allowed students' reading scores to decline or stagnate: in 1998, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that 68 percent of fourth-graders in the schools with the most poverty could not read at a basic level.

Mr. Bush also cited the Third International Math and Science Study, which had U.S. students doing worse than all other nations except Cyprus and South Africa.

Last night Mr. Bush flew to eastern Washington, where he talked of his support for hydroelectric power, a contentious issue between farmers and environmentalists.

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