Four Years Later, GOP Platform Takes New Tack on Education

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What a difference four years make.

In 1992, the Republican Party platform bragged about President Bush's "bold strategy" for improving the nation's schools that included "several legislative proposals" for parental choice, raising academic standards, and the creation of "break the mold" schools.

Written by then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, the platform section on education also cited Mr. Bush's "sweeping youth-apprenticeship strategy" and the fact that "Republican leadership has nearly doubled funds for Head Start."

This year, however, the GOP platform makes clear that there should be as little federal involvement in education as possible.

"Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: The federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the workplace," it reads, although it does endorse a federal voucher-demonstration program.

Both the 1992 and 1996 platforms urge as much local control as possible in education. And Mr. Bush's "America 2000" strategy was based on community empowerment rather than federal legislation.

But several prominent conservatives were clearly giddy at the Republican National Convention in San Diego last month when discussing the differences between the two documents.

"There has been an incredible awakening in the last four years at the grassroots about the status of public education," said Phyllis Schlafly, the president of the St. Louis-based Eagle Forum who was a critic of the Bush strategy.

Asked if the GOP has to acknowledge a dramatic shift in the platform, Michael Farris, Patrick J. Buchanan's campaign co-chairman, said, "If we're intellectually honest, the answer is yes."

"No substantial difference" separates America 2000 from the signature Clinton administration education program, Goals 2000, said Mr. Farris, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Fund.

Mr. Alexander, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, was clearly annoyed when asked by reporters to compare the two platforms.

He said Mr. Bush provided national leadership without federal intrusion.

There was considerable mention at both conventions of the African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child."

The well-worn saying, which the first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, used in the title of her recent book, is translated by many conservatives to mean that it takes the government to raise children.

In his Aug. 15 speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, former Sen. Bob Dole sided with Mrs. Clinton's critics.

"We are told that it takes a village--that is, the collective and thus the state--to raise a child. The state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of children, and children are more neglected, abused, and mistreated than they have been in our time," Mr. Dole said. "This is not a coincidence, and with all due respect, I am here to tell you it doesn't take a village to raise a child, it takes a family."

Meanwhile, the Democrats, seeking to counter the Republicans' unfavorable interpretation, referred to the adage throughout their national convention in Chicago last week. Mr. Clinton suggested that during Mr. Dole's recovery from his wounds suffered in World War II, his hometown "village" in Kansas helped sustain him and prepare him for his political career.

Mrs. Clinton defended the "village" concept during her Aug. 27 speech to the Democratic delegates, citing the teachers, police officers, clergy, and health-care workers who protect and nurture children.

And Seattle Superintendent of Schools John H. Stanford, in his speech to the Chicago convention, declared the proverb "is truer now than ever."

And as vigorously as the Republicans applauded Mr. Dole's remarks, the Democrats cheered the first lady and Mr. Stanford.

Jason Brinton, 18, of Utah was the youngest delegate to the Republican convention, and Paul Kraus, 17, of Iowa was the youngest delegate to the Democratic convention.

Mr. Brinton, a recent graduate of West High School in Salt Lake City, got a two-minute speaking spot on the first day of the GOP conclave.

"I was anxious. I was really nervous," he said in San Diego. "I just wanted to come here and contribute and experience what the process was like."

He has enrolled at Harvard University.

Mr. Kraus will be a senior this fall at Wahlert High School in Dubuque.

Both delegates campaigned for their spots and were elected by the state party membership.

Voucher proponents raised $1.2 million at a golf outing during the Republican convention.

The "President's Golf Challenge: Golfing for Kids" issued an invitation to President Clinton, an avid golfer, but he declined to attend.

The outing brought together Hollywood celebrities, athletes, and politicians to raise the money, which will be used to provide scholarships to poor children.

The event--designed to highlight President Clinton's opposition to vouchers and the fact that he sends his daughter, Chelsea, to a private school--was organized by the Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a conservative advocacy organization.

The center's vice president, Kevin Teasley, said five donors offered $76,000--the amount Mr. Clinton raised earlier this year by agreeing to play golf with the highest bidder at an auction for Sidwell Friends, the Washington school Chelsea Clinton attends.

"We'll keep golfing until we have vouchers for kids," Mr. Teasley said.

In an effort to demonstrate their concern for the nation's schools, both Mrs. Clinton and Elizabeth H. Dole visited schools during their parties' respective conventions.

Mrs. Clinton showed up at the opening of Christo Rey, a new Roman Catholic high school in Chicago.

Mrs. Dole, meanwhile, visited the San Diego Unified School District's Bayview Terrace Elementary School. As part of her stop, she helped school officials dedicate an arbor.

As the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention, Debra DeLee, a former chief lobbyist for the National Education Association, spent the past year and a half in Chicago overseeing preparations.

Ms. DeLee told the NEA's caucus at the convention last week that she had a ready response when anyone asked about the difficulty of such a task.

"I taught 4th grade, so I'm qualified to do just about anything," she said.

Ms. DeLee, 48, taught in suburban Chicago before moving on to union organizing and political lobbying. She moved to the Democratic National Committee from the NEA in 1993.

Recalling earlier days in Chicago, Ms. DeLee said, "I can remember walking a picket line for the Queen Bee Education Association." That suburban Chicago union chapter is named for the local elementary school district.


Vol. 16, Issue 01

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