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Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani called for taxpayer-funded vouchers for public elementary schools, saying the value of school choice in the college market would work for public schools as well.

His comments came a day after his chief rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, called the failure of inner city schools "the great civil rights issue of our time."

The two have tangled for days over illegal immigration, with each accusing the other of supporting efforts to give undocumented residents sanctuary from federal immigration laws.

On education, they avoided direct criticism of each other, preferring to stress their own ideas for improving schools.

At a town hall meeting Friday in Merrimack, New Hampshire, Giuliani said that giving parents a choice of the schools they send their children to will improve the quality of education through competition.

"How is it that we have the best higher education in the world and a weaker K-through-12 system?" he asked. "What's the difference? Why does one operate so well and the other not nearly as well? American higher education is based on a quintessential American principle -- choice."

Yesterday, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Romney did not elaborate on his concerns about city schools. But he told a questioner that he does not want the federal government to dictate too specifically to the nation's local school boards.

"I'd like to have local school boards recognize that they need to be concentrating of course on English, math and science," he said. "but also some of the cultural elements that make us a society of creative individuals."

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  August 17, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
 
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