(U-WIRE) OXFORD, Miss. — Over the past several weeks the voters of Mississippi have been lucky enough to meet and listen to the Republican team of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney speak on the issues facing America today.
On their campaign to become the next occupants of the White House, Bush appeared at a campaign rally in Memphis to showcase the ideas that define why he wants to become the next president of the United States. Education has long been his central campaign issue and he stressed that to the huge crowd that attended. Cheney echoed these sentiments in Jackson last week as well.
Pledging to help needy students find “the path to achievement,” Bush recently offered three new proposals to make college more affordable for students who need financial help. His proposals will increase access to higher education, better prepare students for college and help families save for a college education.
Bush’s first proposal is to fully fund the Pell Grant program for first-year students by increasing the maximum grant amount to $5,100 from its current level of $3,300. It will encourage 800,000 students every year to enter and complete college.
His second proposal is to establish a $1.5 billion College Challenge Grant. This federal funding will cover one-third of state costs to establish a merit scholarship program. States will have freedom to design their own scholarship program except for baseline course requirements.
Granting complete tax exemption to all qualified pre-paid and tuition savings plans and extending coverage to independent prepaid tuition plans is the governor’s final proposal. Independent prepaid tuition plans allow families to lock the cost of education at a private college at a price less than today’s costs. Currently, they are not recognized as qualified plans by the IRS and, therefore, do not have the tax and other benefits that state prepaid tuition plans have.
Earlier in the campaign, Bush announced the two proposals of expanding Education Savings Accounts and offering enhanced Pell Grants to students who take rigorous math and science courses in high school. These changes will allow families or individuals to contribute up to $5,000 annually per child into education savings accounts, up from the current $500 limit, and will give low-income Pell Grant recipients an additional $1,000 to pay for college tuition.
As governor of Texas, Bush has vastly improved schools. He reformed Texas schools by establishing tougher standards and stronger accountability and by insisting that every child learn to read. As a result, test scores are up in Texas. Bush’s plan for America’s schools will empower parents and schools by providing much needed resources matched with long overdue flexibility from Washington rules and regulations. In short, his plan will give parents a choice, students a chance and schools a challenge to be worthy of our children’s dreams. No child will be left behind.
Bush talks about education as much as possible because he knows how important it is and how much it can be improved. Texas has made the greatest gains in the nation in overall student achievement. This was done despite the fact that during the Clinton-Gore administration, achievement scores nationally among rich and poor, minority and non-minority students have either stagnated or gotten worse.
Howie Morgan’s column originally appeared in the University of Mississippi’s Daily Mississippian on Sept. 1.