The Last 'Lion'

No one has been more disheartened by the breakdown of bipartisanship in Washington than the staff at The Education Trust. As an organization, we worked hard over many years to cultivate strong relationships with both Democrats and Republicans, believing that the clash of different perspectives often produced stronger policy and that the interests of low-income children were better served if neither party solely "owned" responsibility for serving them, and serving them well.

But even as hyper-partisanship took over almost everything, I remained hopeful that Congress could still find its way back to cross-party cooperation that has been the hallmark of federal education policy since the 1960s.

That hope disappeared Monday. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. -- as much the "lion" of the House on education matters that Ted Kennedy was in the Senate, and, like Kennedy, a man with an enormous body of bipartisan work -- announced his planned retirement after 40 years in the House of Representatives.

I've known George since we were both not much more than kids -- he a young staffer in the California State Senate, me a recent college graduate and the head of a new organization in the state capitol created to work on behalf of students. Even then, though, the contours that would shape his career of national service -- strong ethical standards, passionate commitment to speaking up for the voiceless, and willingness to question party orthodoxies -- were clear.

I'll miss his friendship. I'll miss his honesty. I'll miss his irreverence and willingness to take on entrenched interests within the Democratic Party. And I'll miss our long-standing partnership in working through really hard education policy questions.

But I'll mourn, too, this latest and perhaps most devastating sign that the hyper-partisanship, which has led this Congress to a record of "do-nothingness," is driving high-quality people, who want to do something on important national problems, away from the policy arena. That's a tragedy for the low-income children who need fierce, creative advocates to help pave their path upward. And it's a tragedy for the country more generally.