Butterfield spurns ‘radical plan’

Published 9:10 pm Thursday, October 7, 2010

Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., of Wilson blasted his Republican opponent, Ashley Woolard of Washington, for the political newcomer’s proposal to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.
In a news release, Butterfield’s campaign said Woolard broadcast this “radical plan” during two televised debates.
“Doing away with the DOE, which administers a budget of $63.7 billion and serves 56 million students, would force officials to determine whether to downsize, reassign or eliminate an array of programs,” the release reads.
Among the programs on the “chopping block” would be Title I, through which money is passed on to school districts with large numbers of students from low-income families, the campaign said.
“This radical plan would be devastating,” Butterfield is quoted as saying in the release. “Many of our schools rely heavily on these monies to serve their most at-risk students, and less-affluent students often need help to go to college.”
In an interview, Woolard confirmed he favors doing away with the federal Department of Education, though he offered no specifics as to how he would like to see Congress achieve that goal.
“First and foremost, I am an advocate of abolishing the Department of Education,” he said. “That’s just a fundamental difference between my opponent and I.”
Later, he called the Washington Daily News to clarify his remark.
“I know government has a role in education, but I want to see more state and local control,” he said. “That’s my premise there. It’s better to have a Democrat in Raleigh guiding our schools than a Republican in Washington because that gives local control to our schools.”
Woolard added he doesn’t want to eliminate the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
“I’m not trying to say government doesn’t have a role in education, but I want it more localized with the state and local government,” he said.
Butterfield, a former N.C. Supreme Court judge, represents a large swath of northeast North Carolina, including around half of Beaufort County.
Woolard, an executive with his family’s insurance business, is running for Congress for the first time this year.
Butterfield’s campaign said the 1st Congressional District would have lost $108 million in stimulus-package funding without the federal Department of Education, which oversaw distribution of education-tied stimulus money destined for states.
The campaign also noted states get 10 percent of their education money from the federal government, “and poorer communities, like many of those in eastern North Carolina, usually receive an even larger share.”
“This difficult economy has created enormous shortfalls for our local schools,” the congressman was quoted as saying. “Our schools would have been devastated without these funds.”
For his part, Woolard said very little money earmarked for education actually makes it down to classrooms.
He pointed to the North Carolina Education Lottery as an example, apparently referring to a recently released report that shows less of the state’s lottery-generated revenues are being used for education.
The report, distributed by left-leaning government watchdog N.C. Policy Watch, said the lottery money budgeted for education was allocated at 37 percent in fiscal year 2006-2007. That figure dropped to 29 percent in 2009-2010, the report reads.
Woolard also came out against the No Child Left Behind Act, approved by Congress under President George W. Bush.
The act mandates annual standardized tests.
“I’m not a big fan of that program, no,” Woolard said, when asked about No Child Left Behind.
“What it’s forcing the teachers to do is teach the students how to pass tests, and I’m concerned with them actually learning and not just trying to pass tests,” he said.
Asked for his position on No Child Left Behind, Butterfield released a statement through his spokesman, Ken Willis.
“While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) aimed at increasing accountability and improving student achievement, there are clearly some problems with the law,” Butterfield said. “As Congress looks at reauthorizing this legislation, there are some fundamental changes that are needed.
“As currently written, NCLB does not have clearly defined goals and fails to provide schools and teachers the flexibility needed to improve student achievement. In looking at changes, we must provide clear standards and allow school districts much greater flexibility in how they go about achieving these goals. This would mean shifting the focus from singling out under-performing schools to fostering a ‘race to the top’ that rewards successful reforms.
“I would also favor provisions that push states to address the disparities between high- and low-poverty school districts.”