Platform Embraces Bush’s Approach to Education

By Sean Cavanagh & Michelle R. Davis — September 20, 2004 4 min read

Republicans drafted a party platform for adoption at their national convention in New York City this week that reflects in language and spirit the stamp that George W. Bush first placed on the GOP’s education positions four years ago.

At the same time, it includes a reiteration of traditional party stances on such issues as school choice and school prayer.

Audio Extras

• Highlighting President Bush’s prime-time speech, the presence of silent protesters, as well as some celebrity sightings, staff writer Michelle Davis files her final report from the GOP convention. (3:28) Windows Media format | MP3 format

•Staff writer Michelle Davis reports on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s appearance at a public elementary school in Harlem, and the upcoming address Thursday evening by President Bush. (2:30) Windows Media format | MP3 format

• Staff writer Sean Cavanagh reports on the convention addresses by Education Secretary Rod Paige and first lady Laura Bush. (3:03) Windows Media format | MP3 format

Education Week staff writer Michelle Davis reports on the education chatter, or lack thereof, at the convention. (2:21) Windows Media format | MP3 format

Education Week staff writer Sean Cavanagh files a report on the weekend buildup to the convention. (3:01) Windows Media format | MP3 format

The document as it stood late last week offers a resounding defense of the far-reaching No Child Left Behind Act, which President Bush made one of his top domestic priorities and signed into law in 2002.

“It was the most significant overhaul of federal education policy since 1965,” a draft of the platform says, calling the law “a promise kept to parents, students, teachers, and every American.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Bush’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, has joined teachers’ union leaders and some state and local education officials in criticizing the law as inflexible and underfunded. Mr. Kerry, who voted for the measure, has softened his tone on the law since the primary season. (“Kerry Aiming for the Center on Education,” Aug. 11, 2004.)

The Republicans’ draft platform attempts to rebut criticisms by noting overall increases in federal education spending since President Bush took office. And it reflects a belief that the party stands to gain considerable political capital from the federal school improvement law.

“Republicans have transformed the debate on education,” the draft says. “We are the party parents can trust to improve schools and provide opportunity for all children, in every neighborhood, regardless of background or income. We are the party willing to embrace new ideas and put them to the test.”

The drafting of party platforms sometimes produces intense debates, traditionally on social issues such as abortion. But U.S. Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania, the chairman of a Republican platform subcommittee, called education a “consensus issue” and said there was general unity in how the party thought about the No Child Left Behind Act and other issues.

The platform “will also tell a story that we don’t always feel has been told,” Rep. English said in an interview last week as the document was still being hammered out.

The draft platform calls for extending the reforms at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act “up and down the education ladder,” from early-childhood education to the transition from high school to college. It also credits the president with having taken steps to improve college affordabilty—an issue on which Democrats have been sharply critical of the administration.

Core GOP Themes

The document also highlights several education ideas that have been party orthodoxy for years. It notes presidential and Republican congressional support for the expansion of parental choice through charter schools and the creation of the nation’s first federally financed voucher program, a pilot program in the District of Columbia.

The document also says the party will continue to support “voluntary student-initiated prayer in school” without governmental interference—language almost identical to the 2000 platform—and access to public schools by religious groups. Both the Democratic and Republican platforms typically serve as symbolic documents that have little bearing on the party nominees’ campaign agendas. But they nonetheless reflect principles that guide the parties and their loyalists.

The Republican platform was drafted by party staff members with input from constituents across the country, said Ginny Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the party’s convention staff. It was then revised by a 110-member platform committee, which was to vote on it late last week and present it to convention delegates on Aug. 30.

Josh Earnest, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said the Republican platform reflected the party’s habit of touting large-scale changes in education without supplying the funding or political commitment to make them successful.

For example, while the GOP platform notes that Pell Grant funding has risen to record levels under President Bush, it fails to note that the maximum award has remained stagnant, at $4,050, despite rising college costs, Mr. Earnest said. Republicans likewise overlooked legitimate complaints about the No Child Left Behind law, he said.

“It continues [Republicans’] trend of misleading the American public on the impact of the their policies,” Mr. Earnest said. “Their record speaks for itself.”