In light of the first week of classes, it seems appropriate to discuss the education policy issues that will prove important in this upcoming presidential election. Now that we have moved past the period of primaries, we will finally begin hearing debates regarding issues that are generally overshadowed by the economy, such as education.
While President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on many points concerning education, the greatest point of contention I believe the candidates will focus on is the role of federal versus state government. On a basic level, Obama aims to increase the government’s role in education, while Romney encourages greater participation of the private sector.
Consider K-12 charter schools and voucher programs. Romney and Obama believe in allowing students, especially those with disabilities and from poor socio-economic backgrounds, to choose what school they attend. But under his plan, Romney would lift all restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed in states and allow for private-sector trade groups to design K-12 curriculums.
The Obama administration argues for more regulation, saying that allowing families to choose schools regardless of geography would siphon off resources from the students left behind, often from low-income families. Vouchers allow needy students to use public funds to pay for private schools or enroll in charter schools.
Next up: for-profit colleges and federal financial aid programs. The Obama administration has worked to regulate universities that leave students with an immense amount of debt by making failed programs ineligible for federal student aid, though the legislation was watered down from earlier drafts.
Romney is calling for a return to bank-based lending programs through the private sector, which he says will increase competition and drive down costs.
College students should expect to see more debates concerning federal student loan programs, especially with the potential slashing of Pell Grants in attempt to decrease government spending. While some may argue federal financial aid programs have become ineffective de facto entitlement programs, others will argue that allowing private sector firms to fund education will leave already economically disadvantaged students who benefit from federal aid behind.
Education issues this election season will surely spur interesting debates, especially considering the candidates will undoubtedly fire back at any suggestion of similarity in policy.