By Susan Roth
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Hawaiis congressional delegation strongly opposed President Bushs first initiatives last week, offering traditional Democratic arguments against his proposals for school vouchers, nationwide student testing, and across-the-board tax cuts.
Tuesday, Bush acted on his campaign promise to make education reform his top priority. He proposed providing more money to improve public schools and teacher education, requiring more testing and ultimately allowing students to use federal money to attend private schools if their schools fail to meet new national standards.
The new administration has yet to officially release Bushs proposal to cut taxes by about $1.6 trillion, but two senators introduced the legislation last Monday. The plan would lower current tax rates, which now range from 15 percent to 39.6 percent, to 10 percent to 33 percent. It would also double the child tax credit to $1,000, reduce the so-called "marriage penalty" paid by some couples who file jointly and eliminate estate taxes.
"The way the voucher system has been arranged by the Bush administration, it will eventually set aside public schools only for very poor or wipe them out," said Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii). "We need a good public education system thats available to all."
Student testings expensive
Inouye also said he doesnt believe Bush realizes the expense of nationwide student testing. Tests must be customized to local populations in order to be meaningful, especially for a multiethnic group such as Hawaiis students, Ino-uye said.
States are already testing students regularly, he added. "We can set up certain federal standards, but the president should encourage the states to do it instead of saying the federal government will do the testing."
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), a former educator, said he is pleased the president is focusing on education and recognizes the need to increase federal support. But he, too, worries about how testing would take diversity into account and how to avoid having the test become the curriculum, said his spokesman, Paul Cardus.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-urban Honolulu), another former teacher and staunch supporter of unions, had harsh criticism for Bushs education proposals. He said what Bush really means with his voucher and teacher education proposals is: "Lets go beat up on teachers, particularly if theyre organized, if their students are having difficulties."
"Hes saying, Lets punish schools that dont produce, when he should be increasing teacher pay, reducing class size and giving teachers the proper equipment and infrastructure," Abercrombie said. "Instead, hes telling them to make do with what you have, well test the daylights out of you and if you dont make it, well close you down."
Rep. Patsy Mink (D-rural Oahu, Neighbor Islands) and a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has said she also strongly opposes the voucher and testing proposals.
Compromising might jeopardize Social Security
On the tax plan, Hawaiis lawmakers say Bush wont be able to carry out his proposal and also invest in education and other programs such as prescription drug coverage for seniors.
"There are certain tax cuts where hell find bipartisan support," such as eliminating the marriage penalty and the estate tax, said Inouye. The total could be a third or even half of what the president is suggesting, Inouye said. "But if you want to also accommodate additional education spending, defense spending and debt pay-back, you get nothing and Social Security would not be saved."
In addition, Inouye said he would like to see more benefits for the poor. "For them, $100 means food in the mouth. On the other end of the spectrum, $10,000 is a question of whether they get something they can do without. Im not too supportive of providing more luxuries."
Akaka also said he would support tax cuts only if other priorities are taken care of first, including debt reduction, and only if the economy stays buoyant.
Abercrombie said under Bushs plan, "the richest 1 percent of the population are getting 100 times the tax cut of everybody else. We have to address the inequities of the tax system, not provide more money to those who already have it."
Abercrombie, who last year was one of the most vocal Demo-cratic supporters of Republican efforts to eliminate the estate tax, said he believed that part of the package is likely to succeed. He said he would prefer a rate reduction rather than an outright repeal, but he is willing to work with the Republicans again this year on the issue.
Mink did not respond to requests for comment on the tax proposal.
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