The Austin Chronicle

Radnofsky's Education Fixes Fall on Few Ears

By Lee Nichols, February 3, 2006, News

What if a U.S. Senate candidate gave a press conference and nobody came? Barbara Ann Radnofsky very nearly found out last week as the only relatively high-profile media sources to show up at state Democratic Party headquarters were this newspaper and the Statesman, and the latter showed up late. No one holding a camera of any sort was there, but of course, the TV stations probably had car crashes to cover that afternoon.

So, obviously lacking momentum, Radnofsky still valiantly tried to seize it by demanding that incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison "end the war on children" and laying out her proposals for how the feds can aid public education. "Most people know that Texas leads the country in dropouts," she said. "But leading the country in dropouts is significant when measured by the fact that we are 46th in teachers who actually have secondary degrees in the area in which they teach. And that we are towards the bottom of the barrel in SAT scores among our students, around 48th." To change these numbers, Radnofsky had two major proposals:

First, promote programs to keep kids in school, specifically the Upward Bound and Peer Mediation programs, both of which Radnofsky – a lawyer specializing in mediation – teaches pro bono in public as well as private schools. Upward Bound is a federal program to provide fundamental skills to high school students from low-income families, families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree, and military veterans preparing to enter college. Peer Mediation educates school kids in listening, neutrality, and conflict management. "It has a wonderful success rate at reducing violence in the schools," Radnofsky said. "We have a terrible problem of bullying and violence in the schools."

Second, restore grants and loans "so that our college-age students are able to stay in school. One of the biggest problems this state faces is an uneducated citizenry. That's why our state demographer has for the first time predicted that our next generation will be earning less and will be less prosperous than the generation before it. What that means for our futures is mass ill-educated folks, no tax base, and economic ruin."

Hutchison, she charged, "has consistently voted against proper funding for school repairs, voted against the Head Start program, which is so essential for school-age children, and voted for the cuts in student loans and grants that are so necessary." She also said that Hutchison supported the No Child Left Behind act but then three times "cynically voted against the full funding that would help the program succeed."

Hutchison campaign spokesman Bryan Eppstein replied, "Those are false statements. It may be just political rubric, but the truth of the matter is … Kay Bailey Hutchison is a tremendous advocate of funding public education. More money is being spent today on education today than both before President Bush was elected in 2000 and before she was elected to the Senate in 1993. So she has been a strong advocate of public education. She's been a strong advocate of the Head Start program."

Radnofsky also touched on other issues including the Iraq war. She seemed to have shifted to a slightly stronger position since we last heard her in October, saying, "We need to listen to our military advisers. They're being squashed right now. And, we need to set [a] timetable and we need to withdraw."

Also present at the press conference was Congressional District 31 candidate Mary Beth Harrell, who hopes to knock off incumbent John Carter. The military veteran's wife, attorney, and mother of a current Iraq war soldier, said, "I want a Congress that is worthy of the service and the sacrifice of our soldiers … and we don't have that Congress currently. Their votes are for sale, and they sell cheap."

She attacked Carter for being closely allied with Tom DeLay and for both taking money from DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee and contributing money to DeLay's defense fund.

She also challenged both Carter and the media to tackle some issues "slightly under the radar," such as the use of depleted uranium weapons. "The people in Congress right now, this administration, they don't care about the vets. They don't care about the soldier, they don't care about the family members. They care about the military contractors, they care about the people who are making a fortune off of using depleted uranium on weapons. There ought to be a congressional investigation into how that's affecting our soldiers' health, and the health of the civilians who are exposed to it in the environment, as opposed to just saying, 'Oh, that's not a problem.'"

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