WASHINGTON – Determined to make education an election-year issue, a coalition of mostly liberal-leaning groups is planning what amounts to a giant party — a single night of gatherings in homes, churches and libraries to get people talking about public schools.
The Sept. 22 event is billed as potentially the largest mobilization ever for public education, with house parties in every state reaching at least tens of thousands of people.
It is also described as a nonpartisan push to elevate education as a national priority and get leaders to fix problems with No Child Left Behind (search), the federal law championed by President Bush and approved with bipartisan support from Congress in 2001. Yet some of the groups leading the way are putting considerable money behind getting Democrat John Kerry (search) elected president.
"We will work with anybody who has the goals and objectives of increasing support for the quality of public education," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (search), the largest union in the country. It has endorsed Kerry for president.
The event coalition will not endorse candidates or take positions on issues such as vouchers, said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future (search), a liberal advocacy group. Rather, people at parties are to get nonpartisan descriptions of candidates' education records and be encouraged to consider schools when voting. They will also be asked to sign a petition calling on Congress and the president to increase school spending.
"We're going to try to engage people in a discussion about the real challenges that schools now face," including children who have no access to preschool, young teachers who are abandoning the profession and schools that use trailers as classrooms, Borosage said.
Education, traditionally a top election issue, has slipped behind concerns over the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy in voter polls and garnered far less campaign attention.
Among other groups involved are MoveOn.org, ACORN, the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute and the NAACP Voters Fund. Organizers expect more than 100 diverse groups will sign up before the parties start, which will be at the end of school on Sept. 22.
Before organizers ended their conference call with reporters Wednesday, a leading House Republican sent a news release criticizing their effort and their claims about Bush. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, House education committee chairman, called the organizations "openly partisan political groups representing the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party."
MoveOn.org's political committee has spent millions of dollars in advertising against Bush. Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, said: "What we need to do is focus on the issues. What's wonderful is there's broad support for these (education) issues across partisan lines."