RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The Republican Governors' Association and GOP Congressional leaders on Friday unveiled an education platform calling for local control of schools, teacher accountability and enhanced school safety programs.
Most of the ideas in ``Children First: The Republican Agenda for America's Students'' have been touted for years by GOP leaders both in Congress and at the state level. But, the Republicans said, the new platform unites the party's 32 governors and its members of Congress for the first time and will help make the proposal federal law.
``We all believe the federal role should be very limited,'' RGA Chairman and South Carolina Gov. David M. Beasley said at a news conference. ``We're not going to go down that same old approach, that road of failure that just dumbs down the kids and throws money at the schools.''
Beasley and fellow Republican governors Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Terry E. Branstad of Iowa,Ed Schafer of North Dakota and Jim Gilmore of Virginia met in Richmond to discuss the plan, released Friday morning during a conference call with other GOP governors and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
The governors said the focus on education will give them a boost in this fall's races for 36 of the nation's gubernatorial seats. The party holds 24 of those seats.
Major points of the ``Children First'' plan:
--Teacher and Student Safety. It calls for community-based codes of conduct for students, prosecution of violent juvenile offenders, no tolerance for school violence, increased authority for teachers to remove disruptive students and education focusing on ``citizenship, patriotism and respect.''
--Classroom Excellence. It calls for a return to educational basics like reading and math skills, tougher statewide testing, an end to ``social promotion'' of failing students and higher standards for teachers.
--Local Control. The plan backs the conversion of existing federal education programs into block grants which would allow local school districts to decide how to use the money without federal interference. Critics have said repealing the existing programs would also eliminate important federal conditions attached to money earmarked for those programs, such as a requirement that homeless children have access to public schools.
The plan also backs public charter schools, school choice, and ``A-plus Education Savings Accounts,'' which would let families save $2,000 per year with tax-free interest to help pay for public charter, private or home schools.
Overall, however, the plan offered few legislative specifics. The governors said it had to be that way because each locality should be allowed to devise its own ways to implement the ideas.
But Melissa Bonney Ratcliff, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said the plan's lack of originality and specifics shows that it is a campaign tactic timed to influence the fall elections.
``This is the same old story for the Republican Party. It's a lot of talk but not a lot of action, and I think the American people will see through that,'' she said.
Polls, even those conducted by Republicans, have consistently shown that voters perceive the Democratic Party as stronger than the GOP on education issues.
``They know they're at a disadvantage to the Democrats,'' Ms. Ratcliff said. ``With the election coming up in 48 days, they're realizing that they have to do something.''