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The Shape of Things to Come

By Alyson Klein — June 04, 2008 2 min read
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From contributing blogger Alyson Klein:

Last night kicked off the general election in earnest. And, although neither Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois nor Sen. John McCain of Arizona focused in detail on education in their speeches (big surprise), their general election arguments on education began to take shape. And both speeches were just as notable for what they didn’t say as what they did.

Sen. Barack Obama , now the presumptive Democratic nominee, said he wants to provide more resources to schools, particularly for teacher training:

“If John McCain spent some time in the schools of South Carolina or St. Paul, Minnesota, or where he spoke tonight in New Orleans, Louisiana, he’d understand that we can’t afford to leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind; that we owe it to our children to invest in early-childhood education; and recruit an army of new teachers and give them better pay and more support; and finally decide that, in this global economy, the chance to get a college education should not be a privilege for the few, but a birthright of every American.”

While Obama mentioned that there needs to be more money put into programs authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act, he didn’t say that the law itself needs to be scrapped or even significantly rewritten. He has mentioned “fixing” the law in other stump speeches, and I wonder if that line just didn’t make it in ... or if he is going to be more pro-NCLB now that the general election has effectively begun. Stay tuned, I guess.

McCain repeated his calls to make government in Washington more efficient and to “freeze discretionary spending until we have completed top-to-bottom reviews of all federal programs to weed out failing ones.”

Presumably, the plan to freeze spending would include Title I grants for disadvantaged students and other major NCLB programs. That would be huge for school districts that say they haven’t seen a major increase in Title I aid in years - and it might make it difficult to gain the support of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who has said President Bush’s refusal to increase education spending has essentially deadlocked NCLB negotiations this year.

But, despite his criticism of the expansion of the federal government during the Bush years, McCain also did not attack No Child Left Behind, a program that many conservatives consider the embodiment of federal overreach. The law is so closely identified with President Bush that criticizing it may give McCain a chance to show he’s Not Bush, a point he made over and over in his speech last night. And even some conservatives havetaken him to task for seeming to stay so close to the law’s core principles, despite opposition in his own party. We’ll see if McCain’s essentially pro-NCLB strategy continues to hold throughout the general election campaign.

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