- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

House Republican leaders are pushing their members to talk more about education as they campaign, because they are trailing Democrats on the issue and leaders believe it is a key part of securing victory this fall.

"Our constituents need to hear from us on education," House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma said yesterday. "That's too critical of an issue for us not to be out there talking about."

Recent Republican polling showed the party has lost ground to Democrats on the education issue since January. And when the party loses ground on education, they lose ground in the overall election as well, Mr. Watts said.

"When Republicans are out there talking about education, our generic numbers are good," Mr. Watts said he told the Republican conference recently. "When we're not talking about education our generic numbers are decreased."

The issue is a battleground between the two parties right now. Soon after Mr. Watts discussed the issue yesterday, Democrats held a rally with a group of students and teachers to criticize Republicans and the president on education.

"You can talk about education all you want, but you have to pay for it," said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, as the group behind him waved signs that read, "Keep the promise to leave no child behind" referring to the education-overhaul bill signed by President Bush early this year.

Mr. Watts said Democrats have "gotten no traction" on any issue, so they resort to "their standard line that there's not enough money."

Mr. Watts and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, put together packets for Republicans to use in talking to constituents about education.

"There's nothing out there that would encourage us to believe that Democrats have better ideas," Mr. Watts said. "In fact, they have no ideas but research proves that when we're not talking about education, we lose."

Specifically, Republicans are being told to highlight the new education overhaul law, which links federal funding to results to ensure children are learning; provides unprecedented money to ensure all children are reading by the third grade; gives parents a greater say in their child's education; and reduces red tape for schools.

They are also being told to highlight Republican legislation that would forgive up to $17,500 of the student loans of those who become math, science, and education teachers, as well as the Republican push to expand school choice for low-income parents and their children.

Meanwhile, at the Democrats' education rally yesterday, they released a report that found access to college education is being limited by budget cuts.

"As a result of state budget cuts, students are facing the largest tuition hikes in recent history," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "At the same time, the Bush administration has shortchanged Pell Grants and other programs to help low- and middle-income students afford college."

The Pell Grant program, which provides money for low-income college students, is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall.

The Education Department responded yesterday by saying Congress is the reason for the shortfall, since last year it authorized $11.6 billion for the program, but then provided only $10.3 billion.

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