Retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell capped off the first night of the Republican National Convention with a call to arms to help America’s children.
“It’s time to stop building jails in America and get back to the task of building our children,” said Mr. Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the current chairman of America’s Promise—The Alliance for Youth, a national campaign that promotes volunteerism on behalf of young people. “The problem is us—the burden is on us, not on our children.”
Gen. Powell was the last in a series of speakers Monday evening who sounded the day’s theme to “leave no child behind.” Several educators addressed the convention here yesterday, as well as Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s wife, Laura, who talked at length about literacy.
‘Open to New Ideas’
Mr. Powell advocated a range of ideas to improve education, from increasing school spending and supporting standardized tests to experimenting with vouchers. He also praised Gov. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, for making education “the centerpiece of his campaign.” He noted that while many public schools are doing a good job educating young people, too many others are failing.
“[A]ll of us must be willing to spend more to repair our schools and to pay our teachers better,” Gen. Powell said. “We must also be open to new ideas. Let’s not be afraid of charter schools. Let’s not be afraid of home schooling. … Let’s experiment with school voucher programs to see if they help.”
Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has been outspoken in his opposition to school vouchers.
Earlier in the evening, Laura Bush delivered an address in which she spent considerable time describing her husband’s commitment to improving education in Texas.
“I watched my husband make a difference as governor, not by giving one speech about reading, but by giving 100 speeches about reading—directing time, money, and resources to our schools,” she said.
Ms. Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, also plugged her husband’s proposal to spend $5 billion over five years on a new federal reading initiative, and promised that he would increase funding for teacher training.
She also sought to emphasize the importance of helping children before they reach school age. “As First Lady, I will make early childhood development one of my priorities, and George will strengthen Head Start to make sure it’s an early reading and early learning program,” she said.
Head Start has been a sensitive issue for the Bush campaign in recent days, as Democrats have sought to highlight the votes that Gov. Bush’s running mate, Richard B. Cheney, cast against the program when he served as a member of the House from 1979-89.