Bush Campaign Lies

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #18: Kerry Flip-Flopped on No Child Left Behind 

This is item #8 in the 'Kerry Flip-Flops' collection, and it is a great example of the Bush campaign lying and being hypocrites in just one eight-word statement. Actually, it was Bush who turned his back on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and now the Republicans are trashing Kerry for calling him on it.

Consider the evidence supplied by the Bush camp:

  1. Kerry voted For No Child Left Behind Act
  2. Kerry referred to [No Child Left Behind] as an 'unfunded mandate' with 'laudable' goals. 'Without the resources, education reform is a sham,' Kerry said. 'I can't wait to crisscross this country and hold this president accountable for making a mockery of the words "no child left behind."'
Anyone who concludes from statement (2) that Kerry is criticizing NCLB and not George Bush has spent too much time watching FOX News and reading Ann Coulter.

Kerry has every reason to accuse Bush of making a mockery of NCLB. In every fiscal year since it became law, Bush's budget has fallen $6-7 billion short of the funding obligations set forth in the bill. See lie #53. Kerry has always supported NCLB, and as a consequence, he's attacking Bush for failing to adequately fund his own centerpiece legislation.

Got that, Republicans? Bush is the one flip-flopping here, not Kerry.


Update: The Republicans are levelling more attacks against Kerry because of his NCLB vote and current proposals. Apart from quoting statements made Howard Dean and Wesley Clark that Kerry flip-flopped (and what could be more convincing than to quote other people who were also campaigning against Kerry), they cite an editorial from the Manchester Union Leader opining that Kerry is only accusing Bush of underfunding NCLB in order to cover his flip-flop.

That's a possibility, except that Kerry emphasized the need to fully fund NCLB in his floor speech on the very day he voted for it:

The No Child Left Behind Act contains significant, meaningful reforms, but these reforms cannot succeed without sufficient resources. We expect about a 20 percent increase in education funding this year, which is a tremendous step forward. But we need to continue to make resources a priority--we need to fully fund IDEA--we must not thrust new requirements on schools without providing them with sufficient resources to implement reforms. . . . It is my sincere hope that Congress and the States will continue to recognize that reform and resources go hand-in-hand. Resources without accountability is a waste of money, and accountability without resources is a waste of time. The two together are key to successful reform.
It would seem that the real reason Kerry is attacking Bush for underfunding NCLB is because Kerry believed in 2001 --- and still believes today --- that fully funding NCLB is critical for the program's success.

But the major charge the Republicans make in their new ad is that Kerry wants to introduce other measures of accountability, and not rely solely on testing to determine which schools are successful. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that changing the method of accountability isn't the same as abandoning accountability altogether, we must try to determine if this represents a shift in Kerry's views. As you've probably guessed by now, it doesn't, and for the proof we return to --- you guessed it --- Kerry's floor speech:

I also have concerns about the mandatory testing provisions contained in the bill. This legislation requires the testing of all students in math and reading in grades 3-8. I am not opposed to testing, in fact, I think that tests are important so that we know year to year how well students are achieving. It is critically important to be able to identify where gaps exists so that efforts can be focused on closing them. When used correctly, good tests provide information that helps teachers understand the academic strengths and weaknesses of students and tailor instruction to respond to the needs of students with targeted teaching and appropriate materials. My concern is that once we know where the gaps exist, once we know how a child needs to be helped, we will not provide the resources necessary to ensure that all students are able to reach proficiency.
In 2001, Kerry wanted to use tests as tool to determine how to improve education, and not as the final measure of accountability. That sounds remarkably similar to a recent Kerry statement which the Republicans criticize: 'Tests should be used to diagnose problems so we can fix them. They should not be used to punish our schools, our teachers, or our students.'

The Republican argument can best be summed up as: 'Kerry voted for NCLB, but now he's proposing other plans for education. That's a flip-flop.' The thing is, Kerry didn't write NCLB, so it's wrong to assume that he agreed completely with every item in it when he voted for it. However, should he become president, he will have the opportunity to present his own plan for education to America, and it should come as no surprise that it differs from NCLB in a few ways.

One last point. The GOP also claim that Kerry is 'playing politics with education' because in 1999 and 2000, his votes consistently supported the positions of the teachers' unions. And while I can't prove definitively that he's not trying to curry favor with them, it's worth noting that teachers probably know a thing or two about what makes good education policy, and so you would kind of expect a candidate who's concerned about education to support the same policies that teachers do.

4:46 PM