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New Obama Ad Attacks McCain’s Education Record

By Alyson Klein — September 09, 2008 2 min read
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Roy Romer and Marc Lampkin must have been high-fiving over their breakfast cereal. Or whatever it is that the leaders of ED in ’08 do to celebrate a prominent place for education in the presidential campaign.

Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois released the first (in my memory) TV ad on education of the general election. So it’s becoming an issue, sorta! Finally!

The ad is mostly an attack on Sen. John McCain’s record on education issues. It doesn’t go into detail on Obama’s own proposals for schools. You can check out the ad on Obama’s Web site here.

I’ve e-mailed the McCain campaign, and am planning a more thorough fact check, but at first glance, I would say that at least parts of this ad are misleading or don’t represent McCain’s current campaign rhetoric.

The ad says that the Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee is “against accountability standards.” It’s possible that McCain voted against accountability at some point during his quarter century in Congress. In light lettering that’s very difficult to read, the ad cites votes that appear to have occured as late as May 2001.

Still, I’ve never heard McCain, or any of his advisers, say that he’s against educational accountability on the campaign trail. Quite the opposite, in fact. McCain voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The nominee and his advisers have said that he still supports the law and its principles of accountability, and that it needs to be “fixed.”

McCain has been pretty non-specific about exactly what he would change about the law besides broadly calling for expanding school choice without going into much detail about how he would do that beyond the federal voucher program for the District of Columbia, and allowing Title I money for tutoring to flow directly to parents, not districts. But he’s never said he was against accountability or standards.

The ad also says that McCain “proposed abolishing the Department of Education.” Again, that’s news to me, at least in the context of the campaign. To back up this claim, the ad cites a news story from December of 1994 - nearly 14 years ago. I’ve never heard McCain call for scrapping the department on the trail. It’s possible, of course, that he supported that idea over a decade ago when it was part of the Republican Party platform. But it’s not something he has said he would do as president.

The ad also claims that McCain’s economic plan “gives $200 billion for special interests while cutting funding for schools.” I haven’t looked in detail at his economic plan, but McCain has said he wants to freeze discretionary spending, and his top education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, said that would apply to education programs, such as Title I. Folks like the Committee for Education Funding’s Ed Kealy would certainly say that level-funding amounts to a cut, since inflation and increasing enrollment means less money per kid. So, many would call that a fair criticism, although I’m sure the McCain campaign would take issue with it.

The ad also says that McCain “voted to cut education spending” citing votes as recent as 2005. I’m going to check into those.

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