Dedicated to Coverdell, GOP Platform Promotes School Choice

Published September 1, 2000

The Republican Party platform, approved at the start of the party’s convention in Philadelphia, was dedicated at that time to the memory of the late Senator Paul Coverdell of Georgia, who had been the principal congressional advocate of education savings accounts to enhance parental choice in education. The platform supports parental choice in education in four ways:

School Choice

Education is described in the GOP platform as a “parental right and responsibility,” with school choice identified as “the surest way for families, especially low-income families, to free their youngsters from failing or dangerous schools and put them onto the road to opportunity and success.”

Dollars Follow Scholars

One principle in the platform calls for empowering “needy families to escape persistently failing schools by allowing federal dollars to follow their children to the school of their choice.”

Transfer to Safe Schools

Another platform principle advocates “letting children in dangerous schools transfer to schools that are safe for learning.”

Education Savings Accounts

The platform promotes the measure Coverdell championed and calls for “expanding education savings accounts for use from kindergarten through college.”

In his address at the start of the convention on July 31, General Colin L. Powell further emphasized the GOP’s education agenda, saying a quality education can “break the cycle of poverty and failure” for disadvantaged families. Failing schools must be fixed, he declared, and society should be open to new approaches in education, including “private scholarship funding to give poor parents a choice.”

“Let’s experiment prudently with school voucher programs to see if they help,” said Powell. “What are we afraid of?” he continued. “Let’s use innovation and competition–good old American innovation, good old American competition–to help give our children the best education possible.”

Powell criticized schools “trapped in fossilized bureaucracies . . . that have low expectations for children and consequently set low expectations for them.” While calling for more money to repair schools and for better teacher pay, the general called for being “open to new ideas.”

“Let’s not be afraid of standardized testing for students,” he continued. “Let’s not be afraid of testing teachers’ qualifications. Let’s not be afraid of charter schools. Let’s not be afraid of using private scholarship money to give poor parents a choice that wealthy parents have. Let’s not be afraid of home schooling.”

Also addressing GOP delegates on the first night of the convention was school choice pioneer Pilar Gomez of Milwaukee. She launched Parents for School Choice, which organized a diverse group of 4,800 parents in support of school choice and education reform in 1994. Three of her four children participate in Milwaukee’s school choice program, and she currently works with the American Educational Reform Council, a nonprofit group that provides information about the impact of parental choice programs.

Although Gomez is a Democrat, she said “party lines fade” when it comes to “the education of my children and my right to choose their schools.”

“Every child deserves the chance to learn and succeed,” Gomez told convention delegates and a nationwide TV audience. “No child should be in a school that doesn’t work.”

Gomez said speaking at the Republican National Convention was “a great honor,” but she noted it also was “a tremendous opportunity to show that it really is possible to leave no child behind.”

Republican Convention General Co-Chairman Andy Card praised Gomez as “a true pioneer for parental involvement and education reforms that are making a positive difference in students’ lives.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information . . .

The education plank of the Republican Party platform is available on the “What’s New?” page of the Council for American Private Education’s Web site at The Democrat counterpart will also be available there after it is adopted in mid-August.