No Lack of Candidates—or Ideas For Schools

By Erik W. Robelen — June 21, 2000 5 min read

Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush may have a lot to say about education, but they are not the only presidential candidates who are addressing the topic this year.

From ending federal aid altogether to subsidizing teacher salaries, third-party— or fourth- or fifth-party—candidates have a range of ideas for what the federal government should or shouldn’t do in education. While their candidacies are long shots at best, and education may not be their top priority, the anointed or aspiring standard-bearers of the nation’s smaller political parties bring diversity to a campaign in which the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees are getting most of the attention.

As of the end of May, more than 200 presidential hopefuls had filed statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. The number of independent and minor-party candidates who actually appear on the November ballot will vary by state.

One of the leading alternative candidates is Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator and former Republican White House aide who last year abandoned the GOP to seek the Reform Party nomination. On education, he has sought to highlight how his approach differs from that of Mr. Bush, the Texas governor.

“We need a president who not only speaks up for parental choice, but who will shut down the U.S. Department of Education. George Bush won’t. I will,” he said in a January speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee. He argued that the federal dollars should be sent back to states in the form of block grants.

Mr. Buchanan, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 1992 and 1996 and dropped out of the party’s 2000 race, then expanded on his critique of federal involvement.

“Goals 2000, school-to-work, busing, the expulsion of God and the Ten Commandments from our schools, the indoctrination of children in the tenets of evolution and secular humanism, none of these were demanded by parents,” he told the conservative group. “All were imposed by federal bureaucrats, judges, or the [National Education Association], the dismal triangle that has made a hellish mess of American education.”

Howard Phillips

Howard Phillips, the nominee of the conservative Constitution Party—formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party—also is seeking to contrast his education platform with that of the major-party candidates.

“What I would do [as president] is veto every authorization and appropriation for education because it’s completely unconstitutional,” said Mr. Phillips, who also ran for president in 1992 and 1996, receiving 185,000 votes four years ago. Among other reasons, he cited the First Amendment stipulation that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"; education inevitably inculcates religious values, he argued.

He also maintained that despite Republicans’ traditional support for only a limited federal role in education, they have walked hand in hand with President Clinton. “The Republicans in Congress have wound up proposing and supporting more funds for education,” Mr. Phillips said.

Harry Browne, a leading contender for the Libertarian Party nomination, also opposes federal aid for education. “Every time the federal government sends along money, it also sends along strings,” said the candidate’s press secretary, Jim Babka. Mr. Browne, the party’s nominee in 1996, won more than 485,000 votes that year.

Government’s Role

Of course, not all of the candidates shun federal activism. One of the exceptions is the consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who is seeking the nomination of the left-leaning Green Party, which emphasizes social and economic justice and environmental sustainability.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Although Mr. Nader has not outlined a specific education agenda in his campaign, he sent a letter to the president and congressional leaders last summer—well before he announced his candidacy—suggesting that the federal budget surplus pay for a new public-works program, including school construction. President Clinton and Vice President Gore also are seeking new federal aid for building and renovating schools.

“Improving education is on the lips of every politician in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Nader wrote. “But a prerequisite to any serious effort to educate the country’s children ... is providing them with functioning physical facilities.”

Mr. Nader’s highest-profile foray into education in recent years was founding Commercial Alert, a Washington-based nonprofit group that opposes commercialism in schools.

In testimony before the Senate education committee last May, he criticized Channel One, which offers free cable television equipment to schools in return for their showing advertising- supported newscasts in their classrooms. “It is not the function of the public schools to deliver a captive audience of impressionable children to multinational corporations,” Mr. Nader said.

Political observers have noted that while Mr. Nader is unlikely to have a real shot at winning the White House, his campaign could spell trouble for Mr. Gore, since he is likely to siphon away some liberal voters who otherwise would cast their ballots for the vice president. Mr. Nader received 685,000 votes in his 1996 campaign for president.

The expected nominee of the Natural Law Party, John Hagelin, who is also vying with Mr. Buchanan for the Reform Party nomination, argues that the federal government should play a greater role in promoting educational research and development. Mr. Hagelin, a Harvard University-educated physicist who has taught at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, said that, as president, he would create an “office of educational excellence” to showcase what is working in both public and private schools. He also said he would seek federal subsidies for teacher salaries.

“The status of teachers should be raised across the country,” said Mr. Hagelin, who received about 114,000 votes during his run four years ago on the Natural Law Party line. The party was founded to “bring the light of science into politics,” according to its World Wide Web site.

David McReynolds accepts the Socialist Party U.S.A. nomination.
--Socialist Party U.S.A. Web site.

Meanwhile, David McReynolds, the presidential nominee of the Socialist Party U.S.A., said he believes the federal government should provide more money for schools, even while he cautions that federal aid will only go so far in improving education. “The solution is not going to come from the federal government,” he said.

At the higher education level, Mr. McReynolds advocates free tuition at state colleges and universities for qualified students.

“Free education at every level—it pays the society back,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2000 edition of Education Week as No Lack of Candidates—or Ideas For Schools


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