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The Forum on the Future of Public Education draws on a network of premier scholars at the University of Illinois and beyond to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions in educational policy. The Forum pursues original research projects and facilitates collaboration between researchers and policymakers to examine the pressing issues shaping the future of public education.
Education Policy in the News is edited by Forum associate, Matthew Linick. If you have any questions or comments about the newsletter, email Dr. Debra Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Schools of Choice Hotly Debated Nationwide
By: Tracey Ratner
Close to 200,000 American children attended private schools during the 2010-2011 school year, partly due to the 34 school voucher, scholarship tax-credit or personal tax-credit/deduction programs available nationwide. The State of Indiana’s School Scholarship Program finds itself at the center of this debate, with over $16.2 million transferred from public schools to private schools.
Disputing the use of public funds for private schooling, a lawsuit was filed against Indiana’s School Choice Scholarship Program, but on January 13th, the program was ruled constitutional. Judge Michael Keele explained his ruling by saying that the state isn't directly funding parochial schools. Instead, it awards vouchers to parents, who can choose to use them at secular and non-secular schools. Program supporters have been unable to successfully push to expand eligibility to families of students who currently attend private schools. Currently, the voucher system only covers families of students who transfer from public school to private school. Though many parents of students currently in private school would like to take advantage of the new vouchers, the increase in cost would be unmanageable.
Whereas some claim that Indiana’s School Choice Scholarship Program is the envy of America, others insist that it is unacceptable to use public revenue to fund religious organizations. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, agrees and argues that Indiana needs to emphasize strong public school options, including high quality charter schools, rather than subsidizing private schools. Similarly, the Indiana State Teacher’s Association President, Nate Schnellenberger, backs the lawsuit fighting for dissolution of the voucher program. Jim Yardley, a blogger at American Thinker, claims it is understandable that teachers and teacher unions are opposed to the voucher program because they don’t want to see their share of tax revenues reduced and teacher jobs cut. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, argues that voucher programs violate long-held beliefs upon which the country was formed – the strict separation of church and state.
Despite conflicting evidence and possible legal ramifications, there is no indication that the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program is slowing down. In fact, the Lutheran Schools Partnership, comprised of 13 schools, is now accepting vouchers for the 2012-2013 school year. In the year 2012-2013, the program plans to expand to include 15,000 vouchers, and the number of vouchers will not be limited in the subsequent school year.
In Illinois, it appears lawmakers are preparing to push for vouchers, again. In the past, the voucher proposals were aimed at targeting students living in economically depressed areas and those attending underperforming schools. Charles McBarron, Illinois Education Association’s spokesman, said, “We think diverting money from public schools is a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.” Time will tell how school vouchers evolve in Illinois, in neighboring Indiana, and nationally.
Higher Education Issues Come to Forefront of Presidential Campaign
By: Stacy Bennett
Higher education is not typically a major issue in presidential elections, but 2012 has proven to be atypical. The year started with President Obama addressing the important role education plays in the recovery of the nation’s struggling economy in his State of the Union Address. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, the President called for increased investment in higher education, including maintaining current student loan interest rates, doubling Federal Work Study, passage of the Dream Act, increasing job-training programs at community colleges, and continued support for academic research. He also urged the nation’s colleges and universities to control tuition costs, warning that the federal government cannot afford to continue to "subsidize skyrocketing tuition".
Perhaps the most surprising comments about higher education in the 2012 campaign have come from Republican contender, Rick Santorum. In response to President Obama’s calls for all Americans to attain some sort of postsecondary education, Santorum called the president a “snob” saying that colleges and universities have “become indoctrination centers for the left". Santorum said that many hard working Americans have learned valuable skills “not taught by some liberal college professor.” Separating himself from fellow Republicans, other presidential candidates, including Newt Gingrich, sided with President Obama on this issue. Gingrich said that the President’s goals were "perfectly reasonable".
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also faced scrutiny in regards to his comments about higher education. When asked about the rising costs of college in January, Romney encouraged students to explore for-profit colleges. Romney argued that by increasing competition, for-profit schools keep costs down and allow students to get a degree without accruing massive debt. Romney also came under attack for his response to a student who expressed his concerns about being able to afford college. Romney encouraged the student to shop around for the best deal, ending with, “And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.” Some observers thought this response was insensitive and out of touch.
The candidates’ campaign web pages provide additional perspective on higher education. Romney’s page promotes all students having the opportunity to attend college, noting that goal can be achieved “when governors are empowered to reform their education systems, when education entrepreneurs are given the freedom to innovate, when teachers are rewarded for boosting student achievement, and when students are empowered to select a school or education program that meets their needs.” Higher education is not mentioned specifically in either Newt Gingrich’s or Rick Santorum’s plans, but both call for a decreased federal role in education.
As the presidential campaign continues towards November, it will be important to watch whether candidates on both sides of the aisle continue to debate the role of higher education. If so, this presidential election year will begin and end in atypical fashion.
The Forum Director, Debra Bragg, can be reached at email@example.com.
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