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Maureen Lane

State of the Union: Leaving Education Behind

The State of the Union didn't recognize higher education as an important domestic focus. A good many students, parents and other stakeholders have a problem with that oversight. Certainly, we do here in New York.

An article this week on the congressional bills that passed the House (H.R. 5, the College Student Relief Act) notes, "research by the Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) shows that New York state has the most student loan borrowers for four-year institutions -243,696 for the 2004-2005 school year. The group's recent report shows that the average New York student graduates with $14,276 in federal loan debt."

Access to higher education needs to mean access without incurring huge debt - or it simply is not equal access.

An article on TomPaine notes that this administration has not been good for higher ed: "The College Board's latest annual reports ... find that over the past five years tuition at public four-year universities has soared by a record-breaking 35 percent when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, spending on Pell Grants -- the biggest source of federal aid for low-income students -- fell for the first time in six years."

The President did talk about public school education in his speech last night, citing some of its successes. But No Child Left Behind hasn't translated to better high school graduation, which should be a desired result of federal education policy. High schools students coming from poor families encounter major obstacles to graduate high school and are not met with a lot of encouragement to go on to college. Simply put, the President should have laid out policy to address these gross shortcomings, not dwelt on limited - if not entirely flawed - "successes".

Education is where individual rights and government policies intersect and have a chance to synthesize for the benefit of the whole country. We as a people acknowledge that the state has an obligation to educate our children through high school. Also, we have a whopping consensus building that college needs to be accessible, affordable and within the grasp of all who want to pursue it. Yet, we have a sluggish, mostly wrong-headed education policy focus that just is not enhancing the state of our union.

DMI's assessment of the president's speech is on target. The president says he wants No Child [to be] Left Behind without a good education, but won't fund the programs to achieve the goal. And funding is the test of priorities.

In his address last night, the President was clear about his top priority: Iraq. We need a much broader policy focus to actually address the shortcomings of our domestic priorities, or our union will continue to be in a pretty tough state.

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Posted at 7:11 AM, Jan 25, 2007 in Education | Politics | State of the Union
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