Rep. Michael N. Castle’s loss in his quest for the GOP senatorial nomination in Delaware will remove from Congress a longtime member with deep expertise in education issues and a reputation for helping bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats on thorny aspects of K-12 policy.
The nine-term House member and former governor of Delaware lost the GOP U.S. Senate nomination last week to Christine O’Donnell, a tea party-backed marketing and media consultant also vying to fill the seat formerly held by now-Vice President Joe Biden.
Rep. Castle served as a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee. During his nearly two decades in Congress, he was both the ranking member—and, when the GOP was in the majority, the chairman—of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.
“I don’t think there’s a major piece of K-12 legislation in the last 18 years that doesn’t show his fingerprints,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Finn said that major education legislation has traditionally been bipartisan.
“I see the odds of that actually happening dwindling as both parties head for their respective walls and nobody is left in the middle of the auditorium,” he said.
Rep. Castle is the author of the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities nationwide. He helped write the 1997 revision of the IDEA and the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He also helped shepherd the 2007 reauthorization of the Head Start Act, which gained broad bipartisan support.
Rep. Castle also sponsored the legislation that created the Institute of Education Sciences, an independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. And as governor of Delaware, he served on the board of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP.
Katherine Beh Neas, a co-chairwoman of the education subcommittee of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, said that Rep. Castle has a reputation as a legislator who is not afraid to dig into some complicated issues, citing his recent work on promoting appropriate accommodations for testing students with disabilities.
“The word I keep coming back to is that he was thoughtful and someone who made decisions based on facts,” Ms. Neas said. “He was also someone who was very connected to people with disabilities in Delaware. We will miss working with him.”
Ms. O’Donnell will face off in the general election against Chris Coons, the New Castle County Executive, who is now favored to win the seat in Democratic-leaning Delaware. Mr. Coons also has a record on education issues; he serves on the advisory board of the Wilmington-based Rodel Foundation of Delaware, a state education organization that helped craft the state’s winning application in the federal Race to the Top competition.
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as Castle Loss Echoes in K-12 Realm