Federal Campaign Notebook

Cheney, Edwards Clash on Education in Cleveland Debate

By Erik W. Robelen — October 12, 2004 2 min read

Although Iraq dominated the vice presidential debate last week, the candidates managed to get in a few jabs on education and, of course, the No Child Left Behind Act.

When asked about what he would do to help the large jobless population in Cleveland, where the Oct. 5 debate was held, Vice President Dick Cheney ended up talking mostly about education.

“I think the most important thing we can do is have a first-class public school system,” he said. “I’m a product of public schools. And the president, his first legislative priority was the No Child Left Behind Act.”

When it came time for Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to respond, the Democratic vice presidential nominee suggested that perhaps Mr. Cheney had gotten a little sidetracked.

“Gwen, your question was about jobs?” he asked the moderator, Gwen Ifill of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” She replied that it was about jobs and poverty.

“I thought it was about jobs and poverty,” Mr. Edwards said. “I hope we get a chance to talk about education, but that’s what the vice president talked about.”

Later, Mr. Cheney touted increased spending under President Bush.

“Forty-nine percent increase in funding for elementary and secondary education under No Child Left Behind; that’s a lot of money even by Massachusetts standards,” he said, referring to the home state of the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry.

“Yes, but they didn’t fund the mandates that they put on the schools all over this country,” Mr. Edwards replied.

He added: “John and I have—and I don’t have the time now—but we have a clear plan to improve our public schools that starts with getting our best teachers into the schools where we need them the most by creating incentives for them to go there.”

The vice president replied with a swift right: “No Child Left Behind. They were for it, now they’re against it. They voted for it. Now they’re opposed to it.”

Then it was back again to Sen. Edwards: “We are for accountability, and we are for high standards. John and I voted for No Child Left Behind because we thought that accountability and standards were the right thing to do.”

Mr. Edwards seemed to be warming up for a zinger, but then, oops, it turns out the moderator had accidentally given him time that wasn’t his.

“Well, in fairness, if you feel like you need to go to him, we’ll—I’ll stop,” the senator told Ms. Ifill. And there ended the debate on education.

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