Published Online: August 3, 2000

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Alternative Groups Offer Views On Education

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Republicans weren’t the only ones in Philadelphia talking about education this week.

About 200 young people from around the country gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to develop their own platform, which included a call for greater participation by young people in education decisionmaking, as well as increased funding for schools.

Delegates to the National Youth Forum convened in Philadelphia this week even as the Republican National Convention was capturing headlines across town. The youth delegates, who worked from survey information submitted from roughly 5,000 young people, deliberated for several days before announcing their final platform yesterday. The NYF platform recommends more involvement by students in major decision-making processes at all levels, as well as fostering better communication between students, teachers and administrators in schools.

David Nabti, an NYF delegate and rising junior at the University of California, Berkeley, said it's important for young people to become more involved in political matters overall and in educational decisions. He said school is the appropriate place for this to begin, but that “[students] are surrounded by an institution that does not allow their input” in decisions.

Mr. Nabti said the platform recommends a change in the funding source for public schools, as well as increasing and redistributing funds to ensure that all young people have equal access to a quality education. “One of the problems is that the funding amount is often tied to property taxes,” Mr. Nabti said. “It inevitably creates inequitable schools.”

The platform addresses a range of other issues, such as the environment, health, violence, and drug use.

Shadow Convention Insights

Meanwhile, education also came up at the so-called “Shadow Convention,” held this week at the University of Pennsylvania—also in Philadelphia—to provide a counterpoint to the GOP convention. Another is planned later this month in Los Angeles, where the Democrats will hold their national convention. Both events are the brainchild of pundit and nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington and numerous other political analysts, public-interest advocates, and others.

During a panel session on how to connect community service efforts by young people to political action, several experts discussed needed changes for schools.

Anthony Welch of the organization Do Something sought to offer his own definition for the slogan, “Leave No Child Behind,” which Republicans made their theme on Monday, the opening day of their convention. Mr. Welch said the words mean first making sure that young people have the resources they need and then guaranteeing that they are engaged as “active change agents” in society.

Paul Grogan, author of the book, Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for an Urban Renewal, argued that both the Republican and Democratic parties have partial blindness when it comes to education. He said that Democrats “defend a failed system,” while “Republicans are blind to the need for a very significant public investment.”

Geoffrey Canada, author of Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America, argued that in his hometown of Harlem, N.Y., and other urban centers, school vouchers could play an important role in helping parents get a better education for their children. “The real movement around vouchers . . . ought to be led by poor people,” he said. “It’s clear to me that real choice doesn’t exist for most of the folks in these communities.”

The issue of whether government should issue vouchers to students to attend private schools serves as a dividing point between the Republican and Democratic candidates for president.

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has proposed that students in consistently failing schools be permitted to take their federal dollars to another school, whether public or private. Vice President Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, argues that vouchers drain money from public schools that need it the most.

Overall, the Shadow Convention served up a sharp contrast to the GOP convention. The facility where the event was held—at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania—lacked the glitz of the First Union Center, where the Republicans have convened. But the Shadow Convention had its own style—which included a placard reading: “America: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

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