Education

Campaign Notebook

May 05, 2004 3 min read
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Specter Survives Tough Challenge in Pa. Primary

Election 2004

Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Pennsylvania Republican who is a leading player on education spending decisions, narrowly survived a challenge from his right flank in the state’s GOP primary last week.

In a race that attracted national attention, he defeated U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, a three-term Republican from Allentown, by 51 percent to 49 percent. Now, Sen. Specter faces another Pennsylvania congressman, Democratic Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel from suburban Philadelphia, in the general election.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the Senate subcommittee on education funding, talks to reporters after his April 27 primary win.
—Photograph by H. Rumph Jr./AP

Mr. Specter, a former district attorney in Philadelphia, is well placed to influence budget matters as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. In that position, he has taken a lead role in shaping spending bills that routinely provide more federal education aid than President Bush requested.

“He’s been pretty consistent in providing [education] increases,” said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington lobbying group. “He does get constrained by the overall limits that are negotiated by the [congressional] leadership more and more these days with the White House, but within that, he’s always been a strong advocate for education.”

The four-term senator is an opponent of school vouchers, a position he quickly reminded reporters about during a press conference in Philadelphia the day after the April 27 primary.

“I intend to retain my independent voice, a voice I have always had,” Mr. Specter said. “The 12 million people of Pennsylvania have not elected me to be a rubber stamp, and I will speak out where I think the necessity calls for it.”

Rep. Toomey had sought to portray the incumbent as a “tax-and-spend liberal” out of step with the Republican Party. On the home page of his Web site, Mr. Toomey had called for Pennsylvanians to “send a real Republican to the Senate.” He also contrasted his support for school vouchers with Mr. Specter’s opposition.

Mr. Toomey had steadily gained ground in opinion polls, helped in part by strong backing from some Washington-based conservative organizations. But ThePhiladelphia Inquirer reported that Mr. Specter ultimately outspent his opponent by $14 million to $4 million.

The senator’s stances have led to backing from the Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Education Association, which again recommended his candidacy this year, both in the primary and the general election.

“Over the years, he has been a very strong supporter of education, and has worked very closely with us,” said William H. Johnson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “We wanted to make sure he had six more years to do that.”

Mr. Specter also had the support of President Bush, who came to Pennsylvania last month for a rally and fund-raiser to help him, as well as several key Pennsylvania leaders, including the state’s other U.S. senator and a fellow Republican, Rick Santorum.

Checkpoint

The Century Foundation, a New York City-based research organization, has issued an election-year report that takes aim at the No Child Left Behind Act.

Released in late April, the report is part of the “Reality Check” series the organization is publishing this year as a resource for journalists, legislators, congressional staff members, and others seeking facts and analysis on public-policy issues important to this year’s elections.

“Can Separate be Equal? The Overlooked Flaw at the Center of No Child Left Behind,” is available from The Century Foundation. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Called Can Separate Be Equal? The Overlooked Flaw at the Center of No Child Left Behind, the report argues that the federal law championed by President Bush does not deal with what the foundation calls “the central obstacle in the struggle to reduce the achievement gaps: the concentrations of poverty in American schools.”

The report points to research that suggests high-poverty schools are much less likely to be successful than middle-class schools.

“NCLB does nothing directly to address America’s long-standing problem of separately educating poor and middle-class children,” the report says. While the Century Foundation acknowledges that the No Child Left Behind Act provides for some efforts to reduce inequalities between schools, the report argues that the law “does so in a piecemeal fashion that accepts poverty concentrations as unalterable.”

—Erik W. Robelen

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