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Kerry, Edwards Share Education Policy Aims

July 14, 2004 3 min read
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Election 2004

It’s easy enough to contrast Sen. John Kerry with his designated vice presidential running mate when it comes to such matters as style and experience, but on education policy, the two have a lot in common.

Both Mr. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina have called for revising the No Child Left Behind Act. Both want to expand access to preschool, after-school programs, and college. They have similar ideas to improve teacher quality, including extra pay for those who agree to work in needy schools. Each advocates greater public school choice, but opposes private school vouchers.

“There’s just not a lot of daylight between these two on education,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, announced his selection of Mr. Edwards as his running mate at a July 6 event in Pittsburgh.

“I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle-class Americans and those struggling to reach the middle class,” the Massachusetts senator said.

He mentioned one Senate panel Mr. Edwards sits on—the Intelligence Committee—but not another of his assignments: the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

‘A New Bargain’

Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer, has played a fairly minor role in education matters since entering political life in 1998 with his election to the Senate. He has often been overshadowed by more senior Democrats on the issue.

He, like Sen. Kerry, has received high marks from the teachers’ unions in their voter report cards.

Sen. Edwards focused considerable energy on education during his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, outlining a long list of initiatives. For instance, he called for a voluntary preschool program for states that emphasized “high quality” learning, and for making the first year’s tuition at public universities and community colleges free.

He zeroed in on teacher quality, with plans to pay the college costs of students who agreed to teach in high-need schools and subjects, increase pay for those taking the “hardest jobs,” and make it easier to remove incompetent teachers.

“We need a new bargain for teachers that rewards more, and asks more,” Mr. Edwards said in a November 2002 speech on education thought to be a run-up to his presidential candidacy.

Like Mr. Kerry, he has criticized the No Child Left Behind Act, despite having joined the large bipartisan majority voting for the measure on the Senate floor.

Mr. Edwards pledged to revise the law to “focus attention on truly failing schools, ensure that states have the flexibility to take the best possible steps to improve their schools, and clarify the definition of ‘highly qualified’ teachers,” according to materials from his presidential bid. Mr. Kerry has said he wants to alter the law’s “one size fits all” approach, proposing to rewrite its core accountability provisions. (“‘No Child’ Law Faulted in Democratic Race,” Jan. 14, 2004.) Both senators have called for much higher spending on the No Child Left Behind Act and other education programs.

President Bush’s re-election campaign was quick to criticize the Democratic ticket last week.

“Senators Edwards and Kerry both voted for No Child Left Behind, but they both now oppose the president’s education reforms that make schools and teachers more accountable to students and parents,” a campaign fact sheet said.

The Bush campaign has also painted the two Democrats as liberals who are “out of the mainstream.”

But Mr. Rotherham of the Progressive Policy Institute, who served as a White House aide in the Clinton administration, sees the senators’ philosophy differently, at least with education.

“They’re pragmatic, centrist modernizers on education,” he said.

In the primaries, Sen. Edwards won backing from the National Education Association’s affiliates in North Carolina and South Carolina, where he was born. The 2.7 million-member NEA endorsed the Kerry- Edwards ticket last week. (“Teachers’ Union Shifts Into Campaign Gear”, July 14, 2004.)

“I am ecstatic,” said Eddie Davis, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, about the selection of Mr. Edwards for the No. 2 spot. He cited the senator’s stance on matters such as school vouchers and the No Child Left Behind Act, and “his ability to grasp educational issues.”

Mr. Davis added, “There haven’t been a large number of [education bills] that he has actually sponsored himself [in Congress], but he has been articulate in framing the debate.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as Kerry, Edwards Share Education Policy Aims

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