Anyone who followed the No Child Left Behind Act’s development back in 2001 probably remembers that the business community, including groups like the formidable U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were all over the idea of greater accountability for schools. They worked with Democratic civil rights groups (like Ed Trust) and helped get lots of Republicans to vote for the law.
And, earlier this year, the Chamber tapped former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the queen of NCLB, as their key K-12 guru. (She was a major architect of the NCLB law and once said it was as pure as Ivory Soap.)
So you’d guess, what with the whole employing-a-former-ed.-sec. thing, that the Chamber wouldn’t want to back congressional candidates who are running on totally getting rid of not only the NCLB law, but the entire Department of Education.
But you’d be wrong.
Case in point: In the hottest edu-race in the country, the Chamber is running ads to help defeat Sen. Michael Bennet, the pro-performance pay, pro-charter, pro-accountability Democrat, and instead elect Ken Buck, a tea-party-backed attorney who wants to scrap the Education Department and has said he isn’t so sure federal student loans are good policy.
The chamber is also backing other down-with-the-department Republicans, such as Rand Paul, the Senate nominee in Kentucky, who said during a debate that he expects to get lots of teacher support because his anti-NCLB stance is stronger than Jack Conway’s, his Democratic opponent. Conway wants to see the law tweaked.
Here’s what Paul had to say about the law during an October debate (you can watch the exchange on the lefty Huffington Post.)
“No Child Left Behind was a huge mistake, Republicans passed it. ... but it really went against our real philosophy. ... Interestingly, though the teachers hate it,” Paul said during a mid-October debate. And he said that teachers “often vote Democrat, but many teachers will hear that I’m opposed to No Child Left Behind and I’m opposed to Washington dictating what you do in your classrooms and I think we’ll actually get quite a bit of the teacher vote this time around.”
The chamber has also endorsed Virginia state Sen. Robert Hurt, who has also said that he wants to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he’ll campaign for Hurt’s opponent, Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., a close Obama ally who has tried to help shine a spotlight on rural schools.
Of course, the Chamber is also helping candidates who seem more likely to agree with its views on education, such as Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican Senate nominee in Illinois, who tends to be pretty moderate on K-12 issues. (The chamber is running ads against his opponent, Alexi Giannoulias.)
My guess? I think education probably is really important to the Chamber, but, after doing a careful calculus, they decided that other things were more important, like revamping the new health care law, which they aren’t fans of.
Still, if folks like Bennet end up back in Congress, conversations with the chamber’s edu-lobbyists might get a little ... awkward.