1976: The National Education Association, the top teachers union, makes its first presidential endorsement and helps Democrat Jimmy Carter win a tough primary fight. In 1979, President Carter creates the US Department of Education, a top NEA goal.
1980: Republican Ronald Reagan promises to abolish the Department of Education, enhance parental choice, and reestablish prayer in schools. As president he proposes large budget cuts for the Education Department but drops plans to scrap it. In 1983, his secretary of education convenes a commission on the quality of schools, producing a landmark report: "A Nation at Risk."
1984: President Reagan shifts the terms of the education debate from programs to values: He challenges schools to adopt clear discipline codes, control school crime, cut dropout rates, improve test scores, and give merit pay to excellent teachers. (Two months before the election, he proposes sending a teacher into space.) Democrat Walter Mondale proposes $11 billion in new federal education programs, including $1 billion to attract top students who agree to teach in fields with shortages. He opposes tuition tax credits and school prayer.
1988: Vice President George Bush campaigns to be the "education president." He urges local school districts to support kindergarten and pre-K programs. Democrat Michael Dukakis calls for creation of a domestic "Peace Corps for teaching" in rural and inner-city schools. He urges states to set high standards and measure success as a condition for new federal aid. Mr. Dukakis wins NEA endorsement after backing most of its agenda.
1992: President Bush proposes a $500 million "GI bill for children" that would give $1,000 scholarships to poor families. The proposal puts school choice back into the campaign. His rival, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D), is one of a generation of education governors that used "A Nation at Risk" to drive statewide reform. Mr. Clinton urges higher standards and a voluntary national test to measure progress. Teachers unions back him solidly.
1996: In his acceptance speech for the GOP nomination, Sen. Bob Dole blasts the NEA as the biggest obstacle to school reform and calls for eliminating the Department of Education. He proposes a $2.5 billion school-voucher plan and favors a constitutional amendment for school prayer. President Clinton urges the creation of more charter schools and opposes vouchers. He argues against block grants and cutting education funds, but backs school uniforms, more discipline, and character education.
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