Gore Pushes Education, Raises Money in Florida
By Sue Anne Pressley
MIAMI, Oct. 13-As a last-minute stand-in today in south Florida for President Clinton, who decided to remain in Washington for the federal budget fight, Vice President Gore took the opportunity to announce a rescue plan for the Everglades, rally Democrats to open their pocketbooks wider, and bang the drum on one of the Clinton administration's favorite issues -- increased spending for public education.
"Just minutes ago, I toured the Little River Elementary School, where there are 15 mobile units instead of the modern 21st-century classrooms all our children deserve. . . . We're asking the Congress not to shortchange America's students. More than ever, it's time for progress, not partisanship," Gore said in a brief speech at the school, in a struggling area of pastel-colored immigrant homes and small businesses in the northwest Miami neighborhood known as Little Haiti.
Earlier this afternoon, in Palm Beach, Gore unveiled an $8 billion federal blueprint for restoring the Florida Everglades that will be debated in a series of public hearings here beginning in November. The plan, slated to be presented to Congress next summer, would work toward restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades, necessitating the removal of levees and canals across south Florida along with employing more stringent methods of pollution control.
Later, Gore spoke to an estimated 500 supporters at a Democratic fund-raiser at a luxury beach hotel in Bal Harbour.
During these fund-raising, policy-boosting trips, part of Gore's message has been to criticize "a do-nothing Congress," as he put it, for giving the presidential inquiry far greater priority than more substantive issues affecting the nation.
"Every time we say, 'education,' [the Republican majority says], 'investigation,' " Gore told the crowd tonight. "We say, 'legislate,' they say, 'investigate.' We say, 'health care'; they say, 'We don't care.' . . . . The Republican majority insists on dragging this out month after month after month."
But this afternoon, the message was strictly about how America's baby boom generation is not doing as well for today's schoolchildren as the World War II generation did for the youth of the 1950s and '60s.
Citing California schoolchildren who go to classes in large janitor closets, the number of portable classrooms across America, and student-teacher ratios of 38 to 1 in the fifth grade here at Little River, Gore implored Congress to provide enough money to hire 100,000 more teachers nationwide and to repair or replace the one-third of American schools that are in shoddy condition. Under the administration's plan, he said, Florida alone would receive $563 million to hire 4,700 new teachers over the next six years, and would qualify for $1 billion in interest-free bonds to fix its school buildings.
Outside the elementary school, it was obvious that the crowd of about 100 Little Haiti residents had gotten the message too late that it would be Gore instead of Clinton touring the school. "Thank you, Mr. President, Be Our Champion," read one sign held by Haitian refugee Jean Kennedy Joseph, who said he supports Democratic efforts to allow 50,000 Haitians to remain in the United States.
But for Pedro Gonzalez, 10, Gore's remarks about class size and portable classrooms were what mattered the most. "Teachers cannot deal with too many students at one time," the fifth-grader said. "And portable classes are not safe because a bullet can go right through the wall."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company