In his address to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman drew what he sees as sharp contrasts between the Democratic and Republican education platforms and said he and Al Gore are dedicated to promoting accountability and high standards for schools and increasing opportunities for teacher professionalism.
Convention delegates welcomed Mr. Lieberman with resounding cheers; later, they overwhelmingly nominated Vice President Gore as their party’s 2000 presidential standard-bearer and Mr. Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate. In doing so, they made the U.S. senator from Connecticut the first Jewish candidate to appear on a major party’s national ticket.
During a speech punctuated by applause, Sen. Lieberman criticized the Republican education platform and said it would fail to deliver the necessary support to enable schools to meet high standards and accountability measures.
“We see education through a different set of eyes—we are committed to making America’s schools the very best,” he told the crowd gathered at the Staples Center here.
“Schools need to be held to the highest standards of performance and accountability,” he added. “But I’m sad to say that [GOP nominee Gov. George W. Bush’s] plan does not provide the resources our schools need to meet those high standards. You know, sometimes it seems to me like their idea of school modernization means buying a new calendar for every school building,” he said, drawing a big laugh.
Closer to GOP’s Views?
Throughout the convention, party activists have worked to distinguish Sen. Lieberman, a moderate Democrat who chairs the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, from Gov. Bush of Texas.
Rather than criticize Sen. Lieberman, some Republicans—including Gov. Bush—have praised his views, particularly his record of support for experimenting with voucher programs for students from low-income families. Some members of the GOP have also argued that Mr. Lieberman is closer ideologically to Mr. Bush than to Mr. Gore. The vice president strongly opposes vouchers.
Some Republicans also like a recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization plan proposed by Mr. Lieberman and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., which would consolidate and streamline federal programs and offer more school funding in exchange for greater accountability guarantees. Arizona state schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, a Republican, said she, for one, was surprised that Vice President Gore chose Mr. Lieberman as his running mate, given that the senator often worked with her and other members of the conservative Education Leaders Council, a coalition of state superintendents and other officials.
“My first thought was, ‘I don’t want to lose him in the Senate,’ ” she said during an interview at the GOP’s headquarters in a closely guarded office building directly across from the Staples Center. After Mr. Bush is elected, she quipped, “hopefully [Mr. Lieberman] will regain his own voice.”
Mr. Lieberman, she added, “was not consistent with the [teachers’] unions.”
Although Sen. Lieberman has said repeatedly this week that he will align his views with Mr. Gore’s and speak against any voucher plan, his past stances still worry National Education Association President Bob Chase.
“We are a bit concerned that we disagree on some issues related to vouchers and block grants,” Mr. Chase said in an interview at the NEA suite in the Staples Center. “But these are issues we can sit down and work out.”
Mr. Chase, who is also from Connecticut, said he has known Sen. Lieberman for many years. The vice presidential nominee is “a good man, decent person,” Mr. Chase.
Andy Ford, a delegate from Jacksonville, Fla., echoed Mr. Chase’s enthusiasm, for a slightly different reason.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Mr. Ford, the first vice president of the Florida Education Association, which is affiliated with both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers. “It’s amazing to me that we’re still kind of shocked that someone Jewish can be nominated to become vice president.”
Both national teachers’ unions—which have long been major contributors of campaign money and manpower for the Democrats—have applauded the portion of the party’s 2000 platform that calls for elevating the teaching profession through higher salaries, more professional development, and more stringent certification requirements. Sen. Lieberman pointed to teacher professionalism, in particular, in seeking to stake out a difference between Democrats and the GOP. “We are going to treat the people who teach our children like the professionals they are,” he said in his speech to the delegates.
The voucher issue, meanwhile, has particular significance here in California, where voters will consider a ballot initiative this November that would require the state to offer annual vouchers of $4,000 each to allow parents to send their children to private school. The measure is backed by multimillionaire Timothy C. Draper. Members of the NEA and the AFT have spoken out here against the measure.