Obama sends mixed messages on feds’ role in education

NORTH LAS VEGAS — President Barack Obama talked up education reform in a campaign rally at Canyon Springs High School on Wednesday, saying “education starts local.”

He went on, however, to advocate an increased federal role in education.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters estimated by the campaign at 2,700, Obama blamed state budget cuts for “over 10,000 teacher layoffs” across the country and credited his administration’s “stimulus” bill for preventing additional teacher layoffs.

“We can’t be a country that doesn’t support our teachers and give them the right resources in the classroom,” said Obama.

He discussed Nevada’s recent waiver from No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan bill signed by President George W. Bush that expanded the federal government’s role in education by requiring states to administer assessments and meet strict criteria to qualify for federal funding.

“Now Nevada has more room to address its own educational needs,” Obama said. “It’s very important that we work towards reforming No Child Left Behind to ensure teachers aren’t teaching to the test.”

Clark County School District Trustee Carolyn Edwards, who spoke earlier in the rally, said Nevada’s waiver was essential to improving education.

“A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work,” said Edwards.

Despite conceding that a “one-size-fits-all” education approach doesn’t work and acknowledging that education “starts local,” most of Obama’s ideas for education reform include an increased role for the federal government.

“Governor Romney only wants to keep the Department of Education so it can police teachers,” Obama said. “I say we need to protect our teachers and make sure their funding isn’t cut at the expensive of a tax break for people who don’t need it.”

Obama claimed the presumptive GOP presidential nominee planned a 20 percent cut in federal education spending, whereas Obama would “make sure our spending keeps up with other competing countries.”

“If teachers aren’t paid well here, they’ll go to a country where they will be paid well,” Obama said.

Obama used an anecdote about a Canyon Springs High School teacher who had 45 students in her classroom, calling the class size “unacceptable” and saying students “can’t learn when they don’t have a desk.”

James Guthrie, Nevada’s state superintendent of education, has argued that class size is less important than quality teachers and that education reforms should focus on replacing poor teachers with superior ones.

Even “terminating the lowest five percent of ineffective teachers and replacing them with teachers who are only average in effectiveness would of itself elevate U.S. achievement to among the highest in the industrial world,” Guthrie has written.

Obama also addressed student loans, saying student loans should be easier for students to obtain.

“We eliminated the middleman,” Obama said. “Students shouldn’t have to go through a big bank to be able to afford a quality education in this country.”

Obama criticized Romney for being “on the wrong side” of the student loan issue, but both candidates have expressed support for extending low interest rates for government-backed student loans.

Neither candidate, however, has addressed the prospect of increased student loan debt leading to a housing-type bubble.

“Once the government stops interfering with the financing or virtual schools take over, tuition will stop its skyrocketing rate of growth,” wrote Victor Joecks, communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, the free-market think thank that publishes Nevada Journal.

“The best thing we can do now is get the government to quit interfering with higher education financing and let parents and their children, after evaluating the real costs and benefits of higher education, make the best decision for each child.”

The rally marked the president’s sixth visit to Nevada this year but his first official “campaign visit,” said a campaign spokesman. It was the president’s first visit to a CCSD school since his campaign finally paid the district for its overdue bills from several 2008 campaign events.

Democrat politicians in attendance included Congresswoman and U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Berkley, as well as congressional candidates Steven Horsford and John Oceguera. Horsford is running for Congressional District 4 while Oceguera is running against incumbent Congressman Joe Heck in Congressional District 3.

Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more in-depth reporting, visit https://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.

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