The Democratic Contenders On Education

November 12, 2003 6 min read
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Below are summaries of the education records of the nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.


Records and Proposals

Wesley K. Clark

Age: 58

Background: Retired U.S. Army general with 34 years of military service, supreme allied commander NATO, 1997-2000. Former foreign-policy commentator for CNN.

Mr. Clark has conceded that much of his education platform is still taking shape, but he has drawn heavily on his administrative duties in the military that included efforts to improve education services for military personnel and their families. As commander of U.S. forces in Europe in the late 1990s, he was responsible for a school system with 118 schools and 50,000 students. In speaking to Congress, he sought more federal funding to keep pupil- teacher ratios of 18-to-1 in some grades and to hire more counselors and instructors for students with special needs. He has accused the Bush administration of “sloganeering” on issues such as competition in education while ignoring the primary mission of schools. In an interview with the online journal Talking Points Memo, he said: “Teachers are the most important leaders in America.”

Howard Dean

Age: 54

Background: Governor of Vermont, 1991-2003, Lieutenant governor, 1985-91. Practicing physician, 1981-91.

Mr. Dean has been outspoken in his criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act. As governor, he publicly contemplated turning down federal aid because of the mandates attached to the law. He has yet to roll out any detailed proposals for education, but is expected to in coming weeks. He emphasizes the interconnections between education and social services, and has trumpeted Vermont’s efforts to provide health care to virtually all residents, as well as child-care assistance to families making up to $40,000 a year. He also promoted a plan that provides a hospital and home visit to all new mothers. In 1997, he signed Act 60, a controversial plan to ensure more equitable school finance in Vermont.

John Edwards

Age: 50

John Edwards

Background: U.S. senator from North Carolina, 1999-present. Serves on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Plaintiffs’ lawyer in North Carolina for nearly 20 years.

Mr. Edwards voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, but wants more funding for its programs than President Bush has proposed. He proposes spending $3 billion on an early-education plan that, among other goals, aims to bring 1 million more children annually into preschool. He would like to make the first year at a community college or public university free. In return, a student would have to spend an average of 10 hours a week in a work-study program, school or community service, or a part-time job. Sen. Edwards wants the government to pay all college costs of teachers who promise to teach for at least five years in high-need schools. He also would seek to provide $1 billion more for public school choice, require states to make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers, and expand funding for after-school programs.

Richard A. Gephardt

Age: 62

Background: U.S. representative from Missouri, 1977-present. House majority leader, 1989-94; House minority leader, 1995-2002. Sought presidential nomination, 1988.

In Congress, Mr. Gephardt has backed numerous education initiatives, including raising the maximum Pell Grant award and sponsoring legislation to encourage smaller class sizes. He has been a vocal defender of affirmative action in college admissions. If elected, he would try to create a “Teacher Corps,” modeled on ROTC, that would offer college-loan relief to students who committed to teaching for five years. He has accused the Bush administration of underfunding the No Child Left Behind law, which he voted for but says is now heaping burdens on schools without giving them necessary resources. A longtime advocate of organized labor, he has complained about low teacher pay, and says he supports reform “without destroying teacher tenure as we know it.”

John Kerry

Age: 59

Background: U.S. senator from Massachusetts, 1985-present. Lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, 1982-84. Served in U.S. Navy, 1966-70.

Mr. Kerry voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, but has criticized President Bush as not providing adequate funding for the law and for issuing restrictive guidelines. He says he would propose more money for the law and ensure that states had the flexibility to meet its goals. He supports early-childhood education, and proposed the Early Learning Opportunities Act, a measure enacted in 2000 that expands and coordinates early-childhood-development efforts. He has fought for more federal funding for school construction; he proposed a bill that would authorize the federal government to issue $24.8 billion in school modernization bonds. He has consistently supported efforts for “full funding” of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Dennis J. Kucinich

Age: 57

Background: U.S. representative from Ohio, 1997-present. State senator, 1995-97. Mayor of Cleveland, 1977-79.

Mr. Kucinich favors more federal spending on education, arguing that schools need money to decrease class sizes, increase teacher salaries, renovate decaying facilities, and bolster job training for those not going to college. He also supports increases in funding for after-school programs, and wants to reduce the costs of college. He voted for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Joseph I. Lieberman

Age: 61

Background: U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989-present. Democratic candidate for vice president, 2000.

Mr. Lieberman played a significant role in shaping the No Child Left Behind Act, but now says President Bush “has not kept up his end of the bargain” by leaving the law at least $6 billion short of the funding necessary for it to succeed. He has unveiled a plan aimed at increasing K-12 students’ access to and preparation for college, including proposals to raise the maximum amount of Pell Grants; require colleges and universities receiving federal funds to report their enrollment and graduation rates, particularly for low-income and minority students; and encourage states to better coordinate precollegiate education with college requirements. The senator has broken with Democratic Party stalwarts to support pilot programs that would provide tuition vouchers to students from low-income families. He also supported legislation to fund and expand charter schools.

Carol Moseley Braun

Age: 56

Background: U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, 1999-2001. U.S. senator from Illinois, 1993-99. Special consultant to the U.S. Department of Education, 1999.

Ms. Moseley Braun, the first and so far only African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, was an early and vocal advocate for federally subsidized school construction, in the form of grants to districts with dilapidated facilities. That issue eventually was taken up by President Clinton. At a recent public appearance, she proposed having more school funding come from federal tax revenue, rather than from state and local taxes.

Al Sharpton

Age: 49

Background: Ordained minister and civil rights activist; founder of National Action Network, a civil rights group. Ran for U.S. Senate in New York state, 1992 and 1994; ran for New York City Mayor, 1997.

Mr. Sharpton calls for equality in education for all students and contends that locally controlled schools are unequal. He supports the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to make equal education a right. He also backs a moment of silence in schools, during which children who choose to can pray.


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