Democratic candidates reach consensus on education

by Laura Quayle | 11/5/03 6:00am

Democratic presidential candidates have proposed education platforms that differ little from each other, but nonetheless provide alternatives to many of President George Bush's education policies, according to some members of the Dartmouth faculty.

Most candidates agree on a few major points: Bush's No Child Left Behind Act has been largely under-funded, and voucher systems are not the route to universal access to quality education.

They also mostly agree that college education needs to be made more accessible -- though their proposals for making university education more readily available differ.

But Democratic candidates have generally taken stronger stands on other issues than on education.

Professor Linda Fowler, director of the Rockefeller Center, said candidates are not taking strong stances on education because issues concerning the economy, health, the war in Iraq and terrorism have become increasingly important in public opinion, supplanting other issues.

She questioned the importance of education in presidential elections in general, pointing out that "in the end, most education policy-making is still at the state and local level."

Fowler also said, though, that education might become more important in the general election.

Improving Public Schools

Opposition to school-choice vouchers in favor of strengthening public schools is an area that all candidates agree on, with the exceptions only of Joe Lieberman, who supports some voucher programs, and Wesley Clark, who has not taken a prominent stance on the issue.

John Kerry, for example, said in a response to an AFL-CIO candidate survey,

"Drawing money out of the public school system and sending it to private schools hurts our children, and we must make it a priority to improve those schools."

Most of the Democratic candidates have also criticized Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, which focuses on state-administered tests to ensure public school accountability.

Kerry thinks that "the President has made a mockery of the word by under-funding" the project, according to Mark Kornblau of Kerry's New Hampshire campaign office.

A spokesman for the Dean campaign spoke about No Child Left Behind in equally critical terms. Dorie Clark, New Hampshire Communication Director of Howard Dean's campaign, said that Dean believes that under-funding the act results in higher property taxes for local homeowners.

Several candidates, including Edwards, Dean and Kerry, also diverge from Bush's views in their support of full federal funding for special education.

According to Dorie Clark, Dean feels that Bush's failure to publicly fund special education presents a "financial burden for local school districts."

College For Everyone?

While most of the Democratic candidates further agree that they want to improve access to college education, their specific policies differ.

Some who have pledged a commitment to higher education have yet to speak publicly about their specific plans to make attending college easier.

Dean spokesperson Clark, for instance, indicated that while Dean intends to release specifics regarding his stance on the issue soon, he has not yet done so.

Kerry has recently released a plan. According to Kornblau, it rewards tax credit for the first $1,000 spent on college and 50 percent tax credit for the remainder of their tuition.

He also has proposed that the government will pay for all four years of college for any students who are willing to serve their communities through national service, Kornblau said.

Kornblau added that funding for these programs would come from "rolling back Bush's tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, about $90 million."

Edwards' College for Everyone plan is more radical. College For Everyone would make the first year of college free for anyone with academic credentials that is willing to perform community service and would provide free tuition for students that commit to teaching for five years after graduation.

According to Edwards's New Hampshire Deputy Press Secretary, these programs would be funded by closing corporate tax loopholes, which allow corporations to move offshore to avoid paying certain taxes, as well as putting student loans in the hands of government. He expected this to save $1 billion.

Some have criticized the aim and scope of these plans to make college education more accessible.

For instance, Fowler said college accessibility programs "only work for people who have the where-with-all to use them."

She further worried that these plans would provide help to some students whose families are fully capable of paying their tuition bills, leading to high costs for the government.

Other critics of Edwards have questioned the viability of his plans.

Education professor Peter Rodis, for example, said programs like Edwards' are "not the kind of plan that Congress would approve," partly because of already existing budget deficits.

Students Speak Out

Several students still see education as an important issue in the coming election, although the extent to which they have examined individual candidates' policies varied.

When asked about Edwards' College for Everyone plan, Lexie Lanzet '06 responded, "I think competition for opportunities has changed," she said. "You need a college diploma to succeed in the U.S. now."

Justin Blesy '06 said that education is nonetheless an important issue to him.

"We need to fix domestic problems before meddling elsewhere," he said.

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