Elizabeth Dole, introducing the first installment of her education agenda at a school where she once taught history, today called for parent-approved locker and backpack searches and drug-testing of students: "For drugs and weapons, I say: There will be no place to hide."
She also proposed that state and local school districts should receive more money from the federal government with fewer strings attached.
"As president, I will allow states and local school districts to choose how most federal money is spent, as long as they set, measure, and reach goals for student achievement. At least schools will be responsible for student performance, not paperwork," she told 150 upper-class students and school officials at Melrose High School in this middle-class suburb north of Boston.
Dole taught at the school as an 11th-grade student teacher for the 1959-60 academic year while earning a master's degree at Harvard University in nearby Cambridge. Wearing a red "We Are Melrose" button on her lapel and trailed by reporters, Dole swung through corridors decorated with Magic Marker welcome signs, chatted with children in a computer lab, and glided into her old classroom where a sixth grade English class was in session. "This was the room," she said. "It's been a few years, but it's wonderful to be back."
Dole drew on her own teaching experience to condemn federal mandates that she said strangle school budgets with bureaucracy and consume time that should be spent teaching. She recalled how she once asked a Buddhist monk in Harvard Square to speak to her class and tracked down a former police officer to compile a lesson plan on the Boston police strike of 1919. "I didn't choose this lesson because it was mandated by the state or by Washington, but because it brought history to life for my students," Dole said.
More than $118 billion spent on federal education programs over the past 35 years have led to no real gains and plunging educational rankings for American schools, Dole said. She pointed to a stack of papers containing 600 pages of what she called the Clinton-Gore administration's elementary and secondary education reauthorization bill.
"By almost every reckoning, many of our schools have become less safe, more drug-infested, more troubled--while taking on more and more duties, as one noneducational mandate after another is thrust on them by the federal government," she said.
Dole went on to propose federal tax credits to encourage support for public and private schools and increased tax-free contribution limits on education savings accounts. Citing the growing student population and the need for an estimated 2 million new teachers over the next decade, she called for merit pay for teachers and said states should broaden their recruitment to attract mid-career professionals and others.
Unlike Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Dole did not specify how she would leverage federal dollars against poorly performing schools, but indicated school districts could use federal funding for "opportunity scholarships"--or vouchers--at their discretion and said parents should be able to access school performance statistics via the Internet. Bush has promised to strip federal funding from failing schools and give money to parents to pay for tutors or transfer their children to other public or private schools.
Students here enthusiastically greeted Dole, who was given a key to the city, a book, and a "President Dole 1" football jersey. But not everyone cheered the prospect of backpack and locker searches for weapons and drugs at Melrose, whose new principal has instituted tough discipline measures such as community service time for violations including tardiness.
Said A.J. Graham, a 17-year-old senior: "As a student, you should be able to do what you want to do. It's a violation of our rights."