Election Notebook

March 22, 2000 2 min read

First Lady Draws the Line On Schools in Senate Race

Hillary Rodham Clinton sought this month to align her education agenda with Vice President Al Gore’s, while contrasting it with the approach of her Republican opponent in New York’s U.S. Senate race, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“I will work with [Mr. Gore], I will fight with him, I will be by his side as we fix our crumbling schools, as we put more teachers in our classrooms to lower class size, as we improve the quality of education,” she said in a March 11 speech to the city’s United Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that is strongly backing her candidacy.

Linking her opponent to the putative GOP presidential nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Mrs. Clinton added: “And I think we know that is not the priority of the Bush-Giuliani team. That other team, they want to talk about gimmicks, like vouchers.”

The speech reflected the first lady’s efforts to make education a centerpiece of her campaign for the Senate.

"[T]his election presents New Yorkers with a stark choice,” she said. “It is a choice between walking away from our public schools or digging in and making sure that neither child nor school falls between the cracks.”

Officials with Mr. Giuliani’s campaign did not return calls seeking comment last week.

Public Sentiments About Education

Numerous polls have shown that the No. 1 issue for voters this year is education. But an article in this month’s edition of American Demographics magazine notes that many voters aren’t exactly sure what candidates should do about it.

“Many people say schools need higher academic standards and better discipline, but there is a lot of ambivalence about whether schools need more money and where it would be well-spent,” Michael deCourcy Hinds, a vice president of the New York City-based nonprofit research group Public Agenda, says in the article, titled “Mixed Signals on Education.”

“This is a difficult issue for candidates at every level, especially those who develop education proposals around public-opinion surveys,” Mr. Hinds writes.

Moreover, he says, most people don’t understand some of the most hotly debated subjects in education policy, such as charter schools and publicly financed tuition vouchers.

Public Agenda’s own polls have shown that most people’s confidence in public schools is declining, and that they have widely divergent opinions on whether students are learning basic academics.

Information on the organization’s survey, as well as a guide to education-related issues in the campaigns, was scheduled to be available this week on its World Wide Web site,

—Erik W. Robelen & Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Election Notebook