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Tough Times for ED in ‘08

By Michele McNeil — December 04, 2007 1 min read
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Money—and the Gates name—apparently can’t buy everything. Especially a top spot for education in the presidential campaigns.

My colleagues Erik W. Robelen and Alyson Klein detail the struggles of the ED in ’08 campaign in this Edweek story published yesterday. The group, funded with about $15 million so far from the Gates and Broad foundations, is trying to make education a top issue in the presidential campaigns.

To be sure, ED in ’08 has a laudable goal. But they seem to have trouble executing and refining their message, which must compete with significant issues on the federal landscape, such as the war in Iraq, the energy crisis, and health care. Even Kanye West, who did an ad for the campaign (see below), can’t overcome those obstacles. It’s unlikely that giving some money away will work either, which is what ED in ’08 is doing in a sweepstakes that seems to have little to do with presidential politics but offers $50,000 in college scholarships—with winners selected at random. ED in ’08 chairman and former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, in a statement in October announcing the sweepstakes, said: “We need to raise the education bar, ask more of our students and encourage them to seek higher education.” But a sweepstakes, with winners drawn at random, is a curious way to do that.

Perplexing, too, was Marc Lampkin’s comment (he directs Strong American Schools, which runs the campaign) in the EdWeek story that “making [education] a top issue was not the end in itself.” That seems to contradict what’s on the ED in ’08 Web site: “Our goal is to ensure that the nation engages in a rigorous debate and to make education a top priority in the 2008 presidential election.”

Because ED in ’08 is a nonprofit, federal rules dictate that it can’t take a stand on specific legislation, or endorse candidates. But as Alexander Russo points out in a recent blog item, the group can go further to advocate its issues. But that could be the crux of the ED in ’08 problem—it may be hard to raise the level of debate about education when you aren’t taking a more aggressive stand.