Billionaires launch $60 million education initiative

Bill Gates and Eli Broad step into politics bringing focus on improving public schools.

NEW YORK ( -- Bill Gates and Eli Broad two of the most generous philanthropists in the world are joining forces in a multi-million dollar project aimed at improving America's public schools and pushing education higher on the agenda of the 2008 presidential race.

Gates and Board want political candidates to focus on education initiatives because they believe these matters have been overlooked by the war in Iraq, terrorism and health care.

The project will cost $60 million and could rank as one of the most expensive single-issue initiatives in a presidential race.

"Right now [education] is too low on the list of priorities for all the candidates," Broad told The New York Times, "and our job is to get it up on the list."

Gates said, "The lack of political and public will is a significant barrier to making dramatic improvements in school and student performance," in an e-mail response to the Times.

The project, called Strong American Schools, will be advertised under the slogan "Ed in '08" and will be featured in television and radio ads, on the Internet and will include a national network of operatives in both parties.

The first print ad will show a student misspelling "A histery of Irak" on a blackboard.

"Debating Iraq is tough," the advertisement says. "Spelling it shouldn't be. America's schools are falling behind. It's a crisis that takes leadership to solve. So to all presidential candidates we say, 'What's your plan to fix our schools?' "

According to the Web site set up to promote this initiative,, the project will not support or oppose any particular candidate. It will focus on three main areas: a call for stronger curriculum standards; improving teacher quality; and longer school days and year.

"We must demand that candidates and our leaders share their opinions and policies on how our country will offer all young people Strong American Schools," Gates said in a statement.

Supporters of the project also include Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator from Nebraska; Ken Mehlman, the former Republican Party chairman; and Louis V. Gerstner, the former chief executive of IBM (up $1.45 to $99.94, Charts, Fortune 500).

Roy Romer, former Democratic governor of Colorado and recent superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, is the organization's chairman and lead spokesman.

Romer and Marc Lampkin, a Republican lobbyist and former deputy campaign manager for President Bush, will direct the education initiative.

The effort will be financed by the billionaires' foundations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Gates, chairman of Microsoft (up $0.14 to $28.93, Charts, Fortune 500), and Board, the billionaire who founded SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home (down $0.14 to $43.88, Charts, Fortune 500), have both stressed that their education advocacy is nonpartisan. Top of page