DNC 2012: Let's Talk Education, Already!

BlogHer Original Post

I’ve spent the last six months frustrated with this election on many levels -- but my chief issues-based concern has been the lack of discussion on education, specifically K-12 education. How could we forget the Great Student Loan Fight of 2012, which included the President "slow jamming" the news? Though I wonder if I’m wrong to think that, because education is the backbone of a strong society, therefore it should go hand in hand with job creation. Even convention keynote speaker Julian Castro said, “We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education."

Obama Education
9/9/2009: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech to students around the country at Wakefield High School in Arlington, the State of Virginia, near Washington DC, the United States of America, Sept. 8, 2009, which was also the first school day after summer break. The President repeatedly urged students to work hard and stay in school. (Image: © Xinhua/ZUMA Press)

President Obama does have a record of working to improve the quality of education in this country, after the 2001 disaster known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Race to the Top (RTTT), a program implemented as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was the administration’s big win in 2009. RTTT was meant to provide funding to states, in order for them to implement the reforms needed to provide a stronger, quality education -- and to make the United States more competitive at home and abroad. It forced state education stakeholders to come together to plan education reform outside the confines of NCLB.

Twelve states ended up winning a share of the $435 billion pot. Though RTTT has received its fair share of criticism over the past three years, no one can say that this administration hasn’t made an effort to improve public education in this country.

Beyond a grant program, the United States Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, has implemented No Child Left Behind waivers to states that remove the constraints from the Bush-era law. The waivers mostly give states a way to work around strict testing requirements. They have been seen as a way to provide for innovation while recognizing that not all students are the same.

The President has also stayed strong on ensuring that the maximum award for Pell grants, which provides funding to low-income students, will stay at $5,500; he has also emphasized his commitment to early childhood education with Head Start, which provides federal grants to state and local agencies for child development services and helping preschoolers develop early reading and math skills.

There is a commitment from the administration, as evidenced by the last three years. But what will happen should President Obama win a second term? And why hasn’t much of this policy been shouted from the rooftops during the campaign? For many delegates, and even teachers' union members, education is still a priority -- but there needs to be an emphasis on continued support for public education, and this president has a proven record. Nothing can go forward unless supporters of public education move ahead to re-elect President Obama.

June Smith, a delegate and former teacher from New York, told me that, though many educators have taken issue with President Obama's education reform policy, he's got a much better approach than his opponent on the issue. Under Romney, she said, "It will be much worse. There won’t be any public school teachers, or public schooling, if he becomes president." She joins a chorus of educators and teachers' union presidents who say that, with a President Romney, public education will become a thing of the past.

3/1/2011 - U.S. Secretary of Education ARNE DUNCAN seen testifying before a U.S. Senate Budget Committee hearing on the president's proposed 2012 Education budget. (Image: © Louie Palu/ZUMAPRESS.com)

This evening, on night two of the convention, Secretary Arne Duncan will speak to delegates, presumably to tout this administration’s record and preview what could happen in the next four years. Stay tuned.

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