Presidential candidates speak out on education

The campaign for the 2008 presidential election is underway earlier than ever. With nine months until the first primaries and caucuses, candidates from both parties are emerging, and each has made education issues part of their platform.

Looking at Democrats first, “improving our schools” is one of the main issues of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign, with his own campaign website offering it as a mid-level priority.

The first legislation he introduced in the Senate was the HOPE Act, which would have increased the maximum limit on individual Pell Grants from $4,050 to $5,100.

Obama also joined the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as part of the Democratic takeover of Congress.

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who sits on the same Senate committee, has a history of supporting students, both through funding and teacher testing.

When her husband was governor of Arkansas, Clinton sat on the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee and enacted more stringent testing standards on new teachers in public schools.

She has come out in favor of ways to find more money to spend on education, even at the expense of current policy. At the 2006 Take Back America Conference, Clinton said, “All we have to do is cut all the tax breaks for oil companies, pharmaceutical companies and billionaires and put it into student aid.”

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has been quiet on educational issues, focusing much of his campaign strategy on universal health care and fighting poverty.

The former vice presidential candidate has also used the phrase “Two Americas” to describe what he perceives to be an ever-widening gap between different classes in American society and to buttress his poverty-fighting stance.

While he was in the Senate, however, he received favorable ratings from the National Education Association, which rates legislators on their support of public education.

Edwards has previously applied his “Two Americas” idea to education; he has said that economic status directly relates to how good of an education American children receive.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain has received a lower rating from the NEA-due to his support of school vouchers, education savings accounts and his “no” vote on a 2005 legislative amendment that would have provided an additional $5 billion in education money for local groups and incentive grants.

McCain has also enlisted the services of F. Philip Handy, chairman of the Florida State Board of Education, as an adviser on education policy in his campaign. Handy also serves as vice chairman of the National Board of Education Sciences, a position appointed by President Bush.

When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, part of his pre-9/11 reputation as a reformer grew out of his work with the city’s public schools.

The operating budget for the city schools grew from $8 billion to $12 billion under his tenure and more than 10,000 new teachers were hired. Certain special education programs were enacted as well, with an emphasis on bilingual education.

In October 2000, he started the New York City Charter School Improvement Fund, which provided city money for charter schools. It was the first such program of its kind in the country.

He has come out in support of school vouchers, even using the word “vouchers” to describe them, though other politicians have shied away from that word.

Some of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s remarks on education have been critical of the American system, especially when viewed on a worldwide scale.

In May 2005, he said, “if we are going to compete in the global economy, we have to set our education goals higher.”

Other comments of his on the topic have echoed some of Edwards’, especially when describing the perceived rift in education quality across different economic classes.

Though per capita funding of education in Massachusetts dropped during Romney’s tenure, the state legislature started a scholarship fund that awarded Massachusetts high school students four years of tuition-free college at a state university for finishing in the top 25 percent of their class.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.