Paternia Dozier-Washington, 59, is a staunch Democrat and ardent teachers union advocate. She has spent the past few decades working in education, primarily as a first-grade reading teacher, so it is understandably one of her biggest concerns. Dozier-Washington says it's also a major issue in her South Florida community.
While the local public school system is far from exemplary, and faces the same challenges as many systems across the nation, including overcrowding and underachievement — things could be worse. President Obama's Race to the Top program, she says, helped her district avoid making painful teacher cuts that the state's budget problems would have forced, and for that she is grateful.
"The superintendent made it very clear that he would have to lay off a lot of teachers because of the budget, but when Race to the Top came in, he was able to save those jobs and downsize in other areas instead of taking teachers out of the classroom where they're needed most," she told BET.com.
In addition, over the years she has seen countless parents regret the decision to send their children to charter schools, where, she believes, profit too often takes precedence over student achievement.
Dozier-Washington also worries that the United States' global standing in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is on the decline.
"As a teacher, I can see that our students are not as prepared globally to deal with engineering and science and math and I don't particularly like the idea of us going outside of our realm to find top mathematicians and scientists," she said. "I like the idea of producing them right here. And because we are slowly becoming inferior to other nations I am concerned about us remaining on top in terms of producing discovery and research, et cetera."
As a parent, Dozier-Washington has benefitted from changes to student loan interest rates, which she says has made getting her son through college more affordable. Before Obama took office, she was using her savings to fund his tuition costs. And when that well ran dry, she had to take out loans that she said made her feel like she was being shaken down by loan sharks during the reign of legendary gangster Al Capone. Now, because of the current lower rates put in place by the administration, she is definitely feeling better off now than she did four years ago.
Dozier-Washington criticised Republicans for subscribing to smaller government in areas where it actually helps Americans, while also attempting to intervene too much in their private lives, and making what she views as improper judgments about their sexual preferences and abortion rights.
"Lawmakers must govern the nation but they shouldn't dictate to people how they can live their personal lives," she said. "That to me is very, very important. I'm offended when I hear someone say if someone follows you home from a night class and rapes you and you get pregnant you have to have the baby whether you like it or not because I said so or you have breast cancer and don't know it because you can't get any screenings. These kinds of things trouble me."
Dozier-Washington is also troubled that a Mitt Romney administration would "drive us back into the hole we were in when George W. Bush left" office. But if the Republican is the victor on Nov. 6, she will lobby just as vigorously on behalf of education, health care and women's rights.
"There are so many things that would go wrong with that administration, but I will continue to fight and speak out," she said.
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(Photo: Chris Hondros/Newsmakers)
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