ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Christine Byun Report: Back in 2001 when Fred Dalton Thompson was in the United States Senate, he voted for President Bush’s "No Child Left Behind" law, calling it "an important new direction for federal education policy." Read Thompson’s 2001 press release here.
But now that Thompson is a candidate for the GOP’s presidential nomination, the former Law & Order actor has reversed his position and says the education law "isn’t working."
"I’m all for testing," Thompson said Thursday while campaigning in Florida, "but it seems like now some of these states are teaching to the test and kind of making it so that everybody does well on the test — you can’t really tell that everybody’s doing that well. And it’s not objective."
A Thompson spokeswoman explained his new position by saying that it fits into his broader philosophy about which functions should be performed by the federal government and which functions should be reserved to the states.
"It all goes back to federalism. His first principle," Thompson spokeswoman Karen Hanretty told ABC News. "He will unveil an education policy in future days. But this is pretty basic. It goes to the underlying princple which really influences his policy decisions: that the federal government should not be making decisions that should be made at the local level."
According to the Thompson camp, the former senator’s federalist principles haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is his perspective on whether No Child Left Behind — as implemented — comports with such principles.
In the press release announcing his vote for final passage of No Child Left Behind, Thompson expressed his hope that the legislation would "enhance local control."
Hanretty dismissed the possibility that Thompson simply voted for the legislation to support a president of his own party on a major vote. "That’s not it," she said.
Thompson would like to see the federal government provide education funding to the states in block grants with fewer strings attached.
He said his message to the 50 states would be, "We expect you to get objective testing done and publicize those tests for the local parents and for the local citizens and suffer the political ramifications locally if things don’t work out right.’"
Following his remarks in Florida, Thompson released a statement to ABC News indicating that while he supports fewer strings on federal funds, he still supports "some role" for the federal government in providing "funding assistance to states and localities so long as there are not burdensome mandates and strings attached."
"That is consistent with federalism," said Thompson. "The ultimate responsibility still remains with states, local governments, and parents."