‘The Debate Is Really Moving To the Center’

March 21, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Here are excerpts from Staff Writer Joetta L. Sack’s March 9, 2001, interview with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., about his education proposal and future plans. The interview took place in his Capitol Hill office.

Q. Why did the New Democrats decide to delve into education policy?

A. I got into it myself for a couple reasons. The first was, and it’s hard to say this without sounding trite, but the education of our children is so central to the future of our country and the future of our economy and the future of our children, and with that, the fact that it is clear that a lot of our schools are not adequately educating our children. Even though I’m not on the education committee, education looms large in our future, and the shortcomings of our education system are troubling, and are consequential.

We think if you want to help kids get a better education, you’ve got to have a better system of accountability and demanding results. You can’t just have more money and no demand for results. And, you can’t have a demand for results with no money. [President Bush] hasn’t asked for more money; he hasn’t really targeted this program to the disadvantaged. And, of course, he has some things in there like vouchers that we think ultimately are going to be nonstarters. So that’s the precis of the negotiation that we’ve been involved with.

We are at this point very hopeful, one, because we feel the debate is really moving to the center, both from the White House and Senate Republicans [and] ... also, the prospects that we’re actually going to get something done here, that is different, that is a very progressive step forward. ...

Q. The [New Democrats’] “Three R’s” bill hardly got any votes last year when it was proposed as an amendment. Are you concerned about getting enough votes this year?

A. I am. I don’t expect anybody’s proposal is going to pass as is, but I think that if Congress adopts an education reform authorization this year that’s signed by the president, it’s going to be something quite like our Three R’s bill. ... What was being reflected in that vote was the fact that we had a middle position. We had a third way. But neither of those first two ways were prepared to join us; nobody was going to vote for a compromise because it was pretty much acknowledged at that time that nothing was going to happen that year. Last year, the debate on education reform was just a debate. This year, it’s more than a debate—it’s a shared desire to get something done.

Q. You’ve supported voucher experiments for low-income students in the past, but you left vouchers out of the Three R’s bill. What is your current position on vouchers?

A. I have been interested in vouchers to the extent of supporting test programs across the country, just to see how they work, and only on two conditions. One, that they only involve low-income children, that is, children who arguably are trapped in a school that isn’t educating them, and they’re trapped because their parents don’t have the money to get them out of it. ... Second, is that they not take money out of the public school budget, because those schools need funding, particularly the schools in the poor areas. ... We didn’t include those kinds of proposals in the Three R’s bill, frankly, because I’ve concluded, having worked on it for three or four years, that it could bring down the whole attempt to pass a broad education reform and improvement bill.

Q. What do you think of President Bush’s plan for vouchers for students in failing schools?

A. I don’t support his plan because ... the problem is, it does take public money that ought to be going to public schools and it represents ... a surrender, or kind of giving up, on the public schools. And what we try to do in our bill is to achieve some of the same things that vouchers were intended to achieve. ... We’re going to invest more money in those schools, we’re going to demand performance for the kids, and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to give them a whole list of choices of other places to go. In the Senate, the political makeup has changed—support for vouchers in the Senate is lower now than it has been in the last six years.

Q. Do you have any future plans to run for higher office? Are you still in contact with Al Gore?

A. Yes, we’re in contact with him; he’s a very good friend. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity he gave me last year, and I’m thrilled to be back here. I love the Senate. I’ve certainly been enriched by the experience I had running for national office.... So, four years is along way away, and for now I’m very glad to be here and very committed to passing a meaningful education reform act—and I think we’re in reach of that.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as ‘The Debate Is Really Moving To the Center’


Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal National School Board Group's Apology for 'Domestic Terrorism' Letter May Not Quell Uproar
The National School Boards Association voices "regret" for how it sought federal aid to address threats and harassment of school officials.
4 min read
Seminole County, Fla., deputies remove parent Chris Mink of Apopka from an emergency meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford, Fla., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Mink, the parent of a Bear Lake Elementary School student, opposes a call for mask mandates for Seminole schools and was escorted out for shouting during the standing-room only meeting.
Deputies remove a parent from an emergency meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford, Fla., after the parent, who opposes a call for mask mandates for Seminole schools, shouts during the standing-room only meeting.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP
Federal 'A Snitch Line on Parents.' GOP Reps Grill AG Over Response to Threats on School Officials
Attorney General Merrick Garland said his effort is meant to address violent threats against school boards, not to stifle parents' dissent.
5 min read
LEFT: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. RIGHT: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questions Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the U.S. Department of Justice on Capitol Hill on Thursday, questioned by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, among others.
Greg Nash via AP, Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal School Boards, 'Domestic Terrorism,' and Free Speech: Inside the Debate
From critical race theory to COVID policy, the heat on schools has raised issues involving free speech and the safety of public officials.
13 min read
Brenda Stephens, a school board member with Orange County Public Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. has purchased a weapon and taken a concealed carry class over concerns for her personal safety.
Brenda Stephens, a school board member in Hillsborough, N.C., says board members face threats and bullying, an atmosphere far different from what she's encountered in years of board service.
Kate Medley for Education Week
Federal Senate Confirms Catherine Lhamon to Civil Rights Post; Kamala Harris Casts Decisive Vote
Joe Biden's controversial pick to lead the Education Department's office for civil rights held that job in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Catherine Lhamon, nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Catherine Lhamon, then-nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in July.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images