WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND ON EDUCATION. The federal government provides some money to America's schools. More important, the president can set the tone for the nation's commitment to education. Eighth in a series on the candidates and the issues. BUSH

GEORGE BUSH says he wants to be the ``education president.'' He has outlined plans for a new program to monetarily reward successful teachers, administrators, and individual schools. He advocates a ``sharp'' but unspecified increase in Head Start funding to open the preschool program to all eligible four-year-olds.

Yet aside from a few such proposals, there is little indication from the vice-president that he would significantly reverse the cuts in federal aid to education - and the resulting shift to local taxpayers - that have occurred under the Reagan administration.

Nor would he be expected to reverse the increased reliance on state and local educators to set policy and priorities that has been a hallmark of Reagan's ``new federalism.''

The truth is that neither Mr. Bush nor Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis is likely to concentrate much on education once one of them is in the Oval Office. A good indication of that is the low rung education has occupied in the campaign, much to the chagrin of educators across the country.

Much of Bush's focus on the nation's schools could be expected to take the form of ``bully pulpit'' rhetoric on educational philosophy, especially in areas where his views butt up against Congress or a large part of the education community.

In speeches and position papers, Bush talks of a need for ``expanding choice'' in education, referring in part to his support for tax credits or tuition vouchers to allow children to attend the school of their (or their parents') choice. Another element of that emphasis on choice would be widening the ``magnet school'' concept within the framework of public education.

Bush also emphasizes a need to ``get the teaching of moral values back in education.'' He says schools need to teach such qualities as self-discipline, honesty, and respect for the law, which he says too many children are not learning at home. Included here is his support for prayer in the schools.

But Bush would not be expected to appoint an education secretary like William Bennett, whose trademark was confrontation with the educational establishment on philosophical grounds.

Indeed, word that a President Bush might keep the recently appointed Lauro Cavazos at the helm of the Department of Education has sent shivers through conservative ranks. In one of his first statements as education secretary, Mr. Cavazos praised both bilingual education - anathema to many traditionalists - and national education leaders, which by implication included the national teachers unions.

Specifically, Bush proposes the following:

A $500 million ``merit schools'' program, rewarding individual schools for improvements in education. Criteria for the awards would be set by the states.

Increased funding for both teacher and student assessments, to allow state-to-state comparisons of educational progress.

The allocation of $50 million, or about $1 million per state, to encourage education experimentation. Schools with innovative ideas would act as laboratories to discover what ideas work.

Encouragement of parents to save for their children's college education through ``college savings bonds.'' Using payroll deductions, parents could accumulate savings, the interest on which would be tax-free if the savings were applied toward college costs.

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