Federal File

February 09, 2000 1 min read

Lott of disagreement

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the National School Boards Association usually find little common ground when it comes to education policy. But the Mississippi Republican and NSBA members tried to forge a conversation last week when the group invited the senator to be a keynote speaker at its annual federal-relations conference in Washington.

Sen. Trent Lott

Sen. Lott tried to woo the crowd of 650 with stories of his family members who were teachers, his education in public schools and universities, and his days playing the tuba in his high school band.

And he pledged that education spending would be a top priority for Republican appropriators, adding that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be one of the first bills considered by the Senate this year.

But the rounds of applause turned to jeers when Mr. Lott brought up private school choice. This concept has long been opposed by the NSBA, which represents some 95,000 members of local school boards.

The senator drew boos from some audience members when he said the option of vouchers should be kept open, adding, “We need not get so caught up in words.”

And he seemed taken aback after he asked why schools weren’t providing the same good education he received 40 years ago. Some audience members responded, “They are!”

Mr. Lott later said he “knew that a lot of you wouldn’t agree with some of our ideas. But I am making education a priority.”

The audience nevertheless gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Jan. 31 speech.

“We don’t expect them to change their positions when they speak to us,” Olene Clark Nesin, an NSBA board member, said afterward. “It gives us an opportunity to discover what we’re up against.”

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week