Posted Aug. 4, 2008 – Both presidential candidates took their opportunity before the National Urban League to lay out their plans for who would do a better job of improving the nation’s education.
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For McCain, the program known as “school choice” – a controversial proposal to give parents with children trapped in under-performing, often dangerous and dilapidated schools public dollars to transfer their children into better, safer private or parochial schools – is at the heart of education reform. And he blasted his Democratic opponent for failing to get behind the initiative, which has been touted by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.
“Under my reforms, parents will exercise freedom of choice in obtaining extra help for children who are falling behind,” he told attendees of the Urban League convention. “As it is, federal aid to parents for tutoring for their children has to go through another bureaucracy. They can't purchase the tutoring directly, without dealing with the same education establishment that failed their children in the first place. These needless restrictions will be removed. If a student needs extra help, parents will be able to sign them up to get it, with direct public support.”
But for opponents of the plan, school choice is a poor choice.
Critics say it would merely undermine public education by siphoning off much-needed dollars and awarding them to schools that were much better off financially in the first place. They also note that the transfer “vouchers” rarely cover all of the expenses of attending private or parochial school, such as full tuition or transportation, problems exacerbated when children come from single-parent homes.
Obama, who followed McCain at the convention a day later, said he would put up his education credentials against his opponent any day.
“He’s got a pretty slim record on education, and when he has taken a stand, he’s been on the wrong side of the line,” Obama said of the Arizona senator. “His only proposal seems to be recycling tired rhetoric about vouchers. Now, I’ve been a proponent of public school choice throughout my career. … What I won’t do, what I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers. We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them. We need to stop the partisan attacks, and start getting results for our children.”
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