(CNSNews.com) - Vice President Al Gore Wednesday announced a "Universal Preschool Plan" that he says will invest in a new partnership between the federal government and the states to bring preschool within the reach of every family that chooses it for their children. But fellow Democratic contender Bill Bradley isn't buying it.
Gore plans to pay for his plan as part of his $115 billion Education Reform Trust Fund. He would devote $50 billion of the budget surplus over the next decade to make his preschool goal a reality.
Gore would make "incentive grants" available to every state that guarantees access for all 4-year old children. While not calling on all parents to participate, Gore's plan would provide universal access to pre-school for all children whose parents want it. When combined with state matching funds, Gore's new block grant program would provide enough funding to offer access to pre-school for all 4-year olds.
In states where pre-school becomes universally available, the federal funds could be devoted to children aged 3 and younger, or to create year round full-day or multi-year programs for targeted communities and families.
Gore believes his pre-school initiative places "a strong emphasis on flexibility for states and offers choice for parents." The states could use this funding to create and support pre-schools in a variety of community based settings, such as schools, recreation centers, child-care and Head Start centers.
Gore's opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, former senator Bill Bradley thinks Gore's proposal "isn't universal, isn't revolutionary, but is a voucher."
In a statement, Bradley said, "Al Gore doesn't provide preschool for everyone. Gore's preschool program is based on vouchers, or spending public money on private schools. Under Gore's plan, parents are allowed to spend public money to enroll their child in a program run by a religious or private organization."
Bradley also has doubts that Gore's preschool plan would bring about revolutionary change.
"Promising to enroll 75 percent of 4-year olds is not exactly revolutionary. 64 percent of all 4-year olds are already enrolled in preprimary education. Al Gore would spend $50 billion to enroll an additional 11 percent of the nation's 4-year olds in preschool, " Bradley said.
Bradley also said, "Improving public education is critical. But it's also critical that we have leaders who keep their promises. Keeping a promise means being honest about what it will cost to get it done."
Gore's campaign was quick to respond to Bradley's comments. Chris Lehane, spokesperson for Gore 2000, said, "Today, the Bradley campaign showed us once again that it is Al Gore and not Bill Bradley [who has] the big ideas on education. It is unfortunate that Bill Bradley has introduced only incremental and timid proposals to address education. . . . . Bill Bradley has yet to put forth a comprehensive plan to address the needs of America's children. In fact, he has an 18 year record of supporting vouchers and tax credits that take away funds from public schools."