Dean Gets N.H. 'Recommendation'
With the Jan. 27 New Hampshire Democratic primary fast approaching,
one potentially influential organization has already made its
The executive board of the National Education Association-New Hampshire is recommending that its 14,000 members vote for former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont. The board calls its decision just that—a recommendation, not an endorsement.
In a statement issued Dec. 8, the union praised Mr. Dean for recognizing that the federal No Child Left Behind Act, in its view, "is not only under-funded, but is fundamentally a bad law."
Mr. Dean has assailed the law and pledged to seek major changes to it if elected president. His Democratic rivals—who include three senators and two House members who voted for the measure in Congress—generally have been less harsh in their criticism of it. Most have pledged instead to modify its mandates and to provide more funding. ("On Trail, It's Dean vs. No Child Left Behind Act," Nov. 12, 2003.)
The NEA-New Hampshire is the largest teachers' union in the state. Its 2.7 million-member parent union, the National Education Association, has not issued an endorsement of its own. State affiliates of the NEA are allowed to endorse or recommend candidates independently if they wish. Iowa's NEA chapter has not endorsed a presidential contender in that state's Jan. 19 party caucuses.
New Hampshire's first-in- the-nation primary is widely expected to help sort the top contenders from the also-rans in the crowded Democratic field. Recent polls have shown Mr. Dean with a wide lead in the state.
The intricacies of federal special education law have not historically been a big topic of discussion during presidential debates. But the question of special education funding emerged as an issue during a Dec. 9 debate among the nine Democratic candidates in Durham, N.H., sponsored by ABC News.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri was asked at the debate by Scott Spradling of WMUR-TV of Manchester, N.H., when he would end the "unfunded mandate" of special education.
"We need a whole new approach to education," Mr. Gephardt replied. "We've got to fund the unfunded mandate of special education. That has particular application here in New Hampshire. It's a real problem all across the country. I will do that."
Mr. Spradling also asked why Mr. Gephardt, a member of Congress since 1977 and the Democrats' former House leader, has not been able to accomplish that goal.
"Because we've had to deal with Republicans who don't want to fund unfunded mandates," Mr. Gephardt said.
When Congress passed the groundbreaking law now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, it suggested that the federal share of spending would reach as high as 40 percent of the national average per-pupil cost of all students. That level is generally called "full funding." But the federal share of special education costs has reached only about the 18 percent level. Many educators and advocates view that as a broken promise.
Calls to Rep. Gephardt's campaign office were not returned, but his Web site, www.dickgephardt2004.com, says that Mr. Gephardt would "fulfill the promise to fully fund special education—unlike the Bush administration, which has threatened to veto full funding."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been called many things by political opponents, but the GOP lawmaker from Texas might have been especially surprised to hear what Howard Dean recently called him.
At the same Dec. 9 Democratic forum, Mr. Dean was offering a variation on his campaign critique of the No Child Left Behind Act.
"I do not think the president of the United States, for example, ought to be able to run the school systems of New Hampshire and Iowa ... from Washington, D.C.," the former governor said. And, he added, "I don't think Tom DeLay ought to be the chief superintendent."
But while Mr. DeLay cast an "aye" vote for the No Child Left Behind Act, he later told radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh in an interview that he voted for "that awful education bill" simply to support President Bush.
—Sean Cavanagh, Lisa Goldstein & Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 23, Issue 16, Page 28