School Choice Proponents Mourn Loss of Senator Paul Coverdell

Published September 1, 2000

U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell, the principal congressional champion of K-12 education savings accounts and Georgia’s first Republican since Reconstruction to win re-election to the U.S. Senate, died on July 18 in Atlanta of complications from a stroke he had suffered days earlier. He was 61.

The diminutive and unassuming Coverdell was widely respected among his colleagues for his effectiveness, persistence, and persuasiveness in making the legislative process work.

“He was fiercely committed to education reform and he was a quality individual with tremendous capacity for leadership in a quiet, understated manner,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Bill Goodling (R-Pennsylvania). “He championed good schools for all, including education savings accounts as a means to accomplish that goal.”

Coverdell successfully brought his A+ Accounts bill to approval several times over the past four years, most notably in 1998, when it was summarily vetoed by President Clinton. In the measure’s most recent test, the Senate in March passed his proposal by a 61-37 vote, the widest margin of Senate support ever. Despite the President’s implacable opposition to his modest tax-saving proposal to enhance parental choice in education, he never gave up hope.

“There is hope in the dreams of parents who stretch the family budget to its capacity so that their children may have a better future than they had,” Coverdell once told a group of A+ supporters.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Coverdell graduated from the University of Missouri with a B.A. in journalism. He saw peacetime service in Korea and China as a captain in the U.S. Army and operated his own insurance business. He served as Peace Corps director in the Bush administration from 1989-91 and was a close family friend of Texas Governor George W. Bush.

“He listened to the people of Georgia and he was a leader for them–at home and in Washington,” said Governor Bush. “Paul’s soft-spoken, hard-working ways will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him and loved him.”

Coverdell worked with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Georgia Congressman John Linder to revitalize the Georgia Republican Party. His own political career spanned three decades, starting with his 1970 election to the Georgia Senate. In 1974, he became Senate majority leader and held that position for 15 years. His service in the U.S. Senate started in 1993.

“The Senate has lost a humble, hardworking man of great dignity, grace, and style,” said Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education. “The education community has lost an unyielding defender of children and parents. The country has lost a decent and inspiring statesman.”

Coverdell is survived by his wife Nancy.