Every four years, the Republican National Convention adopts a new national platform, which serves an official statement of the Republican Party’s position on a variety of issues. This is the first year that tea party, which was created after the 2008 elections, has had input in the platform’s creation.
Already, GOP leaders have hinted that the 2012 platform, written a 110-member committee this week, will be considerably more conservative than in 2008. The Republican National Committee won’t release the entire text of the platform until Monday when the convention begins to nominate the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ticket.
But some hints have already leaked.
The tea party wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, which was a popular stance during the 1980s and 1990s for Republicans. But according to many tea party members, the GOP rejected their call for abolishment this week.
“We did not secure approval for ‘Eliminate the Department of Education’ – which, to be honest, was always the plank we regarded as most difficult to achieve,” Kristina Ribali of Freedom Works, an activist group created by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey funded by powerful conservative financiers, said in a statement. “But the document’s education section does contain good language on the need for local control and a very strong endorsement of school choice, including vouchers. So we rate this section as a partial victory.”
The tea party’s influence in the educational arena has been seen in local school board elections and state legislatures. Ideas that worked on the local level are now making their way into the GOP's national dialogue.
On the Tea Party Patriot’s website, several points are emphasized. Principals should have the right to set their own curricula, failing schools should be shut down along with failing teachers fired and the elimination of teachers’ unions should occur. They also want English as the official language in public schools and “the teaching of accurate information about our Founding Fathers and American history.”
But at its heart, the tea party is about school choice and the elimination of the federal government control over local schools. Tea party leaders stress that the nation’s school system is broken. The idea of choice without government interference revolves around “parental rights” that began in the Christian conservative homeschooling movement.
The tea party is staunchly against most of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind mandate but such opposition is tricky.
“The Tea Party has put forth an innovative platform in that it rejects NCLB’s national standards and accountability, but asserts the same principles which underlie it,” Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University, said in an interview. “In other words, the tea party is throwing out the federal government in favor of local control, but they are not throwing out the educational reform movement's aims of schools that are more responsible for and responsive to student learning outcomes.”
Brown said that the tea party may not have strongly influenced the education platform this year, but it has given the Republican Party a gift.
“I would, nevertheless, imagine that the Republican establishment would find this hybrid model attractive since much of what the GOP has looked to do over the last few years is move away from all policies that look like ‘compassionate conservatism,’” Brown said.
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com