Who Is In Charge

Romney, Obama link education to economy

During their second duel of this campaign, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday night framed the issue of education as an economic one.

Image of voter putting ballot in ballot box.The first question at the town-hall style debate at Hofstra University, in Hempstead N.Y., came from a college student who asked what the candidates were going to do to make sure a good-paying job awaited him upon graduation.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had a two-prong answer: Make it easier for students to afford college, and make sure there are good jobs once they graduate.

Romney said he would keep the Pell Grant program “growing.” This elevates a position he has made before to a much smaller audience, and continues to divert attention from the budget his running mate authored. House Budget Committee Chairman and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has proposed to trim eligibility, focusing it on the neediest students.

In partnership
  • Our partnership with Education Week, a national education journal, allows us to provide in-depth stories from a national perspective.

Romney’s remarks were similar to those he made in a Univision forum in September, when he said he wanted to grow grants at the rate of inflation. (Note: There’s a $7 billion Pell shortfall that still needs to be closed, according to the New America Foundation.)

Obama, for his part, said one of the keys to economic success is for “everybody to get a great education.” He said he has worked hard to create more community college slots for worker retraining. He touted his administration’s success in removing banks as the federal college loan middlemen, which he said has freed up money for Pell.

Obama also used the Pell topic to appeal to the much-coveted women’s vote. “We’ve expanded Pell grants, including for millions of young women,” he said.

Little New Ground

The debate offered little new in the way of insights into both candidates’ education platforms. But it came on the heels of three other substantive debates in which education played a prominent role—including the first meeting between the two presidential candidates, and subsequent debates between advisers for the two.

In their first debate earlier this month, Obama and Romney both raised education as a key issue in moving the economy forward. Romney surprised education policy wonks by declaring he would not cut education funding even as he seeks to rein in the federal deficit.

On Monday, adviser Jon Schnur, for the Obama campaign, and Phil Handy, an adviser for Romney, squared off at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where we learned that the waivers granted by the Obama administration under the No Child Left Behind Act would be in serious jeopardy if Romney is elected.

And earlier Tuesday, education advisers Martin West (for Team Romney) and Schnur clashed at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where they talked about the Common Core State Standards, waivers, and other hot education topics.

In contrast, in the vice-presidential debate last week, education barely came up.

DREAM Act Gets Focus

During Tuesday night’s debate, when the topic turned to immigration, Romney appeared to flip-flop on the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented young people a path to citizenship. During the GOP primary season, he said that although he supported a path for servicemen and women, he would veto the broad legislation. At Tuesday’s debate, he said such young people “should have a pathway to becoming a permanent resident.”

Obama reiterated his longstanding support for the DREAM Act.

Education did come up one other time at this debate: When one voter asked what the candidates would do about assault weapons. In one of the biggest pivots of the night, Romney said good schools could perhaps bring down violence, and he touted Massachusetts No. 1 ranking for schools. Later, in a closing statement, Romney brought up that he was able to give “100 percent” of his students a “bright opportunity” for the future, clearly in reference to his recorded comments that 47 percent of voters would never vote for him.

Obama also seized on the assault-weapons question to allude to the common core standards (although not by name), and his school turnaround program that he said has resulted in “gains in math and science.”

“If our young people have opportunities, then they’re less likely to engage in these violent acts,” Obama said.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.