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Bush set to go soft on schools

UNITED STATES: The new President is unlikely to have his radical way with education, reports Jon Marcus

THE belated victory of George W Bush as President-elect is unlikely to result in sweeping school reforms even though education figured prominently in his campaign manifesto.

With a sharply-divided Congress and no apparent popular mandate for Mr Bush - after one of the closest elections in history - observers doubt whether he will even attempt to pass his promised controversial measures. Government vouchers for private school tuition was just as much a keynote of his campaign as cutting income taxes.

"If he makes tax cuts and school vouchers the centrepieces of his agenda, Mr Bush will be stuck in gridlock for two years," political consultant Dick Morris said.

The pundits say Mr Bush may look to education as a potential area of consensus, proposing less ambitious reforms on which the warring Republicans and Democrats can come together after their bruising election battle.

Mr Bush's fellow Republicans were quick to make overtures. "What we need to do now is to really come together, stop the incendiary language and see if we can't bond as a country for the good of the people, particularly the children so we can improve their education," said Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Mr Bush has already made a vague suggestion tat he planned to begin his presidency by filing legislation to increase federal funding for schools.

America's largest teachers' union, which backed vice-president Al Gore, took some comfort from the fact that education proved a strong winner in state elections. Voters approved significant increases in school spending and defeated voucher proposals.

"If there's any question about what the public wants, this election provides a clear answer and that is strengthened public schools," said National Education Association spokeswoman Becky Fleischauer. "Education is a priority that can bring together both parties."

The last Congress left unfinished a proposal to allocate more money for school modernisation, teachers' pay, and training. "Those are things that there's a lot of bipartisan support for," Ms Fleischauer said. "They're good starting places."

In polls, 78 per cent of voters said they supported spending more to build or renovate publically-funded schools.

Mr Bush and Mr Gore also agreed that early childhood education should be expanded, although they differed on the money that should be spent.

Polls also showed that most voters preferred Mr Gore's views on education, another factor that is likely to discourage president-elect Bush from attempting to impose dramatic changes.

What the Bush era means for schools, Analysis, page 17

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