Dissatisfied with the pace of change in American public education, billionaires Eli Broad and Bill Gates have announced that they are joining forces on a $60 million school improvement campaign intended to raise the profile of education as an issue in the 2008 presidential race, the New York Times reports.
Featuring the slogan "Ed in '08," the project, called Strong American Schools, will include television and radio advertising in battleground states, an Internet-driven appeal for volunteers, and a national network of operatives in both the Democrat and Republican parties. The project will be funded by the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation and the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to experts on campaign spending, the project would rank as one of the most expensive single-issue initiatives ever in a presidential race, surpassing the $22.4 million that Swift Vets and P.O.W.s for Truth spent against Senator John Kerry in 2004 and the $7.8 million spent on advocacy the same year by AARP.
The project will not endorse individual candidates but will instead focus on three main areas: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures. The campaign will be directed by Roy Romer, the former Democratic governor of Colorado and recent superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, and Marc Lampkin, a Republican lobbyist and former deputy campaign manager for President George Bush.
"I have reached the conclusion, as has the Gates Foundation, which has done good things [in education] also, that all we're doing is incremental," said Broad. "If we really want to get the job done, we have got to wake up the American people that we have got a real problem and we need real reform."