By Stephanie Cruz, 18
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Now that we’re less than a month away from the presidential election, do voters really know what George W. Bush and John Kerry are all about?

It’s hard to figure out where the presidential candidates stand on the issues because of unclear messages in their television ads, speeches and most public appearances. So I wanted to compile a list of the most important issues that teens care about. I went to non-partisan Web sites and read newspaper articles to get information that explains the candidates’ positions.

43rd president of the United States, former governor of Texas. Graduated from Yale. Married to Laura and has twin daughters. Father was president from 1989-1992.

Senator from Massachusetts since 1984. Graduated from Yale. Served in Vietnam. Married to Teresa Heinz, has two daughters and three stepsons.

Bush on Education

• Passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which created standards in each state for what a child should know and learn in reading and math in grades 3 through 8. The No Child Left Behind Act says schools are responsible for helping students from poor neighborhoods do as well as students from richer communities. The act requires that all children receive a "highly qualified" teacher by 2006. Many teachers and superintendents say the act hasn’t been funded properly.

• Supports vouchers so that families can get government money to attend private schools.

• Would require high school seniors to be tested to judge whether they’re learning
enough at school.

Kerry on Education

Supports the No Child Left Behind Act but says it should be properly funded by making sure each class has the needed textbooks and trained teachers.

• Would raise teachers’ salaries through a $3.2 billion community service plan.

• Wants to offer after-school programs to 3.5 million children.

• Supports a College Opportunity Tax Credit. Families would get up to a $4,000 discount on their taxes while they paid tuition for students in each year of college.

• Opposes school vouchers that allow students to use government money to attend private schools.

Bush on National security

• Stated that U.S. military forces will stay in Iraq until we "complete the mission" and create a democracy in Iraq. Bush has not said when the mission will be completed.

• Endorsed some of the 9/11 commission’s proposals to strengthen American defense and information gathering, but not all. He would create the post of intelligence czar and give the person control of budgets for most federal agencies that collect information about other countries and threats to national security.

• Signed the USA Patriot Act into law. The act helps law enforcement and intelligence officers work together more easily. Critics say some parts are an invasion of privacy, such as searches of a person’s library records, "to prevent future terrorist attacks."

• Created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which is responsible for collecting information on any threat to the country here or abroad and the Terrorist Screening Center, which makes watch lists and compiles information readily available 24/7, each time a terrorist is screened.

Kerry on National Security

• Has said he would bring many American soldiers back from Iraq during his first four years in office, by getting more foreign countries to provide troops. Critics say that this is unrealistic, since countries with large armies like Germany, Russia and France have not supported the war.

• Endorsed all of the 9/11 commission’s proposals to strengthen American defense and information gathering. He would create the post of intelligence czar and give the person control of budgets for all federal agencies that collect information about other countries and threats to national security.

• Voted in favor of the USA Patriot Act, but also believes that portions of the act should expire by the year 2005, including the government’s right to search library records or search a person’s home and not immediately tell them.

• Wants to modernize the military by re-training the National Guard so that it can evacuate, quarantine and assist communities in the event of an attack. Also wants to double the size of the volunteer AmeriCorps.

Bush on Environmental Protection

• Favors drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Critics say that there might not be much oil there and it would be very expensive to search.

• Supports making his Clear Skies program the new law to regulate air pollution. The program would let utilities earn, buy and sell credits for cutting pollution. A company that needs to cut its emissions could avoid actual reductions by buying credits from another company that reduced its pollution more than the law required. Clear Skies would replace the Clean Air Act.

Kerry on Environmental Protection

• Opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

• Criticizes Bush’s Clear Skies plan, saying it would delay emission cuts and increase pollution by 21 million tons a year instead of minimizing it. Supports the Clean Air Act, which is the current law.

• Would pressure OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which monitors world oil markets) to start providing more oil. He would stop moving U.S. oil into the reserves to make oil cheaper since there would be a larger supply.

Bush on Affirmative Action

• Ended affirmative action for federal employment used since the 1980s, which eliminated quotas for women and minorities.

• Opposed the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative-action policy. His administration called it "an unconstitutional quota system that discriminates against whites."

Kerry on Affirmative Action

• Has Senate history of opposing efforts to cut affirmative action programs.

Bush on Same-sex Marriage

• Supports constitutional amendment outlawing marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

• Opposes domestic partner benefits, such as hospital visitation rights, for same-sex couples in civil unions.

Kerry on Same-sex Marriage

• Opposes same-sex marriage; but also opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

• Supports federal benefits, such as health insurance and hospital visitation rights, for same-sex couples.

Bush on Immigration

• Proposes a program that would grant temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants so they could work in the United States legally for up to three years.

Kerry on Immigration

• Would offer a reform bill in his first 100 days to allow illegal immigrants to earn legal status if they can show they have been in the country at least five years, they have a job and they can pass a background check.

Bush on Abortion
• Opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is threatened.

• Signed the 2003 Federal Abortion Ban, which is the first federal law that bans abortions as early as 12 to 15 weeks in pregnancy. However, the law has not taken effect because it has been challenged in the courts.

• Has cut federal funding of groups and organizations that teach about birth control, condom use and abortion. Supports abstinence-only forms of sex education.

• Supports adding the "human life amendment’" to the Constitution which would declare that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed." Critics say that this is a step closer to banning abortions.

Kerry on Abortion

• Is pro-choice, although he says he personally opposes abortion.

• Opposes a ban on a late-term abortion procedure, called partial-birth abortion by critics. Congress passed this at the urging of President Bush, but it has not gone into effect yet.

• Opposed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a separate crime to harm an "unborn child" while committing a federal crime against a pregnant woman.