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Why the issue of education matters and where the presidential candidates stand

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year on the country’s public schools. The U.S. has record-high graduation rates, 82 percent, but also stubborn achievement gaps and dismally lagging math and reading scores compared with other countries. And university degrees are leaving millions mired in debt. Few issues touch the lives of families like the state of education.

WASHINGTON >> Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year on the country’s public schools. The U.S. has record-high graduation rates, 82 percent, but also stubborn achievement gaps and dismally lagging math and reading scores compared with other countries. And university degrees are leaving millions mired in debt. Few issues touch the lives of families like the state of education.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton has made the soaring costs of college her primary education focus. She has proposed free tuition at in-state public colleges and universities for working families with incomes up to $125,000. Of course, that’s only free for student and families, not for taxpayers. To counter the crush of student debt, she also wants to implement a three-month moratorium on loan payments for all federal borrowers. During that time, borrowers would be able to consolidate their loans or enroll in other plans that could help cut costs.

Donald Trump has railed against the Common Core academic standards that have been adopted in more than 40 states, calling them a “total disaster.” He’s pledged to do away with them if elected, even though the standards were created and adopted by states, not the federal government. Trump says he wants to see more local control of education. He’s vowed to give students choice, let charter schools thrive and end tenure policies “that reward bad teachers.”

WHY IT MATTERS

Just look at the numbers.

About 100,000 public schools opened their doors to some 50 million students in kindergarten through high school in the new school year.

The bill for taxpayers: $582 billion, or about $11,670 per pupil each year, on average, to teach those students and set them on a path toward college or careers. About 10 percent of that money comes from the federal government. The rest is from states and local districts, facing ever-tight budgets.

The Obama administration and others before it — both Republican and Democratic — have preached the importance of a quality education that opens the door to opportunity and success. Yet the cost of college is rising, leaving students saddled with debt. And some who have attended for-profit schools have seen their degrees rendered virtually worthless, with the government picking up the tab for discharging their student loans.

There’s no doubt that better educated students more often get better paying jobs. The median annual earnings for someone age 25 to 34 with no high school diploma is $40,000. For those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, it’s $52,000.

The good news: High school graduation rates are up sharply and dropout rates are down.

The bad: Progress for the nation’s schoolkids isn’t nearly on pace with other countries. This has implications well beyond bragging rights. A country that’s trailing others in education will lag in international competitiveness and that will contribute to economic hardship. And within the U.S., there are challenging gaps by race and wealth, for achievement and more.

Globally, American schoolchildren trail their counterparts in Japan, Korea, Canada, Germany, France and more.

Education remains primarily the responsibility of the states, even though the federal government can use its pocketbook to influence policies and practices. The Obama administration issued waivers and grants through programs like Race to the Top to get its say on academic standards and other issues.

A law enacted last year with bipartisan support has vastly diminished the powers of the federal government in how the county’s schools are run and their performance judged, but the Education Department still plays an oversight role. While the current administration has started putting the law into place, it will be up to the next president to finish the process.

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  • Sooooo, Hilary is committed to affordable and free higher education for us and Donald T Rump is for private “Academys” where the richest get the best educations and the rest of us get the rest at the price and rate gradients we can individually hope to afford?
    No thanks Donald, and Charles!

    • How does free higher education work? Do educators, administrators, campus security and support staff work for free? You just gave us a good example of the typical democrat voter who resides in a fantasy world where critical thinking is not only discouraged but but strictly verboten.

    • Interesting that entrkn doesn’t seem to realize that the GI Bill provides extensive educational benefits to those that enlist. Hillary would rather hand out “free” college money rather than have people give service to their country and earn it.

  • Per the U.S. Constitution, public education is the responsibility of the States. The U.S. Dept. of Education was established by President Carter and must be repealed. The States must accept the responsibility and authority of public education. Let’s make America Great Again with individuals accepting the challenge of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    • Well, sort of. per the Constitution of the United States, Tenth Amendment, “Reserve Clause” the responsibility for Education is not a responsibility of the Federal government and is thus reserved to the various States. One doesn’t “repeal” the US Department of Education nor does one “repeal” the cabinet post of Secretary. It’s a fairly simple matter of executive privilege to do so but not even Mr. Trump would do that. The role of the US DOE however should become more as it was under President Carter. That is to say, it should become more hortatory rather than prescriptive. The only way to do that is probably to remove its ability to enforce policy through funding or the withholding of funding. This is something that reached its Zenith (or Nadir) under NCLB and President Bush. Unless of course, one wants to adopt the models that people often cite such as Finland, et al. That is to say, the model of the national curriculum and thus limit the power of the States to define what is Education. (Texas for example). Well, which is it to be Mr. Kuroiwa? Texas or Finland?

      • Oh common SA, I’m am responding knowledgeably in my field of expertise without personal attack. How do I go about being more moderate? You have my email. Please contact me.

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