Federal File

May 15, 2002 1 min read

Message: They Care

At the same time President Bush was visiting schools in Wisconsin last week to talk up the new federal education law, congressional Democrats staged a press conference to slam his budget request for schools.

Not enough money, they said. If you missed it on May 8, you may have caught the press conference May 2. Not enough money. Or maybe you heard it at a Senate hearing in late April.

And so it goes. As the midterm elections approach, both Republicans and Democrats appear determined to squeeze all the political mileage they can out of the education issue. And with each passing day, the memory of the cuddly January signing ceremony for the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001—when leaders from both parties stood together, smiles all around—seems a little bit fuzzier.

House Republican leaders, worried that their party’s polling numbers on education have slipped, have put together some suggestions for how GOP lawmakers can do a better job of getting out the message that Republicans care about education.

Read a storybook at an elementary school. Host a summit with school superintendents. Or better yet, present flags that have been flown over the Capitol to schools for special events, such as the announcement of a teacher of the year.

It’s certainly a boost to Republicans that their president champions the issue. Last week, Mr. Bush logged four school visits to talk about his favorite education themes, especially “accountability.” Reporters, of course, tagged along. And wrote about it.

“Now, we’ve got a good plan,” he told an audience at Logan High School in La Crosse, Wis. “It’s up to you to make it work.”

But Democrats weren’t impressed.

“I hope that he tells the children of Wisconsin that he has not yet lived up to his end of the new contract with America’s schools,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “Accountability is a two-way street.”

Expect to hear that message again—and again—in coming months.

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week