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Campaign Notebook

October 05, 2004 4 min read
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Coalition Seeks to Put Education on Agenda for Election Season

A coalition led by the Campaign for America’s Future and the National Education Association is planning what it calls “the largest grassroots mobilization” on education in the nation’s history. The election-year move is aimed partly at seeking a new direction for education policy, away from the No Child Left Behind Act championed by President Bush.

The coalition is planning up to 3,000 “house parties” in all 50 states on Sept. 22 in conjunction with the NEA. The aim, organizers say, is to give people an opportunity to voice concerns about public education and offer ideas on how to improve it, beyond the testing and other accountability measures required by the federal law.

Participants in the house parties will watch a video, have a discussion, and be asked to sign a pledge to become an “education-first voter,” as well as a petition encouraging more federal spending on public education.

“There has to be a significant mobilization of people to make education a higher priority at every level [of government],” said Robert L. Borosage, a co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a Washington-based nonprofit group that is highly critical of the Bush administration. His organization and its partners will follow the house parties with visits to members of Congress and other advocacy efforts.

Five months ago, Mr. Borosage joined with leaders of another Washington group—the Center for American Progress, headed by President Clinton’s former chief of staff John Podesta—to launch a national education task force. The task force plans to hold a series of hearings on education across the country. (“Task Force Forming to Seek New Vision for Schools,” April 28, 2004.)

Joining with the Campaign for America’s Future in announcing the plan on Aug. 10 were the NEA; the NAACP Voters Fund; the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN; the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute; and the liberal political organization MoveOn.org.

Mr. Borosage, a former campaign adviser to several senators and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson during his 1988 Democratic presidential bid, maintained that the mobilization wasn’t aimed at garnering votes for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee. Other partners in the effort echoed the claim.

“We do consider it to be nonpartisan. What we’re trying to do is elevate the debate as it relates to issues,” said President Reg Weaver of the NEA, which has endorsed Mr. Kerry for president. “Those debates hopefully will impact the policy decisions that are going to be made.”

How much of an impact the education mobilization will have on voters this fall remains to be seen.

“The American public’s got other things on its mind,” said James W. Guthrie, a professor of public policy and education and the director of the Peabody Center for Public Policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “The big issues are clearly the economy, war, terrorism, energy policy, gas prices, unemployment, jobs—it’s really going to be hard for education to intrude.”

Republicans are skeptical of the campaign, since Democratic-oriented political groups like MoveOn.org are involved.

“By now, people are pretty clear where the agenda of MoveOn.org lies,” said Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. The group has spent “millions of dollars on ads” attacking President Bush, she said.

The No Child Left Behind Act and additional federal spending on education in the past four years give voters clear positions to weigh, Ms. Layman argued. “President Bush,” she said, “has an education record to run on, not run from.”

—Alan Richard

Colorado School Administrator Falls Short in U.S. Senate Bid

School administrator Mike Miles’ long-shot quest for a U.S. Senate seat from Colorado ended when he lost the Aug. 10 Democratic primary to state Attorney General Ken Salazar.

Mr. Miles had faced tough odds all along—first, more than two years ago, when he decided he would challenge incumbent Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican. Then, when Sen. Campbell unexpectedly announced plans to retire, Mr. Salazar, a much better-known and better-financed candidate, entered the race. (“School Administrator Has Miles to Go Before Reaching U.S. Senate,” Campaign Notebook, July 28, 2004.)

Mr. Miles received 27 percent of the primary vote.

As the campaign heated up, Mr. Miles scaled back his work hours considerably as an assistant superintendent in the 6,000-student Fountain-Fort Carson district, near Colorado Springs. But he resumed work full time last month.

In the general election, Mr. Salazar faces Republican Peter H. Coors, the chairman of the Golden, Colo.-based Adolph Coors Co. and Coors Brewing Co., who defeated former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer in the GOP primary.

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Campaign Notebook

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