In the last question in the last of three presidential debates, John McCain and Barack Obama fielded their first, and only, question in these forums that focused squarely on education policy.
Near the end of the 90-minute event at Hofstra University, the debate’s moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, asked the candidates to respond to trends that show that the United States spends more per capita on education than other countries yet trails many nations on measures such as students’ abilities to compete in mathematics and science. Mr. Schieffer asked whether that posed a national-security threat.
Senator Obama responded first, saying “this probably has more to do with our economic future than any” issue. He agreed that the problems Mr. Schieffer identified do have an effect on national security.
He said the nation’s education problems need to be fixed by spending more money and by reforming the system. He touted the importance of early-childhood education, said the United States needed to recruit a new generation of teachers, especially in math and science, and argued that the government should provide teachers with more professional development and better pay in exchange for being required to meet higher standards.
The Democrat said the United States needed to make college more affordable and help students who are taking on high levels of debt. Graduating from college with large amounts of loans, he said, deters students from pursuing some careers. He pitched his plan to provide students a tax credit of up to $4,000 for tuition in exchange for performing community service.
Senator Obama also challenged Senator McCain’s commitment to improving college access and affordability. The Democrat said one of his opponent’s advisers had responded to a question about why Mr. McCain didn’t have more-detailed higher-education proposals by saying that the government can’t give money to every interest group that comes along. “I don’t think America’s youth are interest groups,” Senator Obama said. “They’re our future.”
Senator McCain didn’t respond directly to that charge. In his answer to Mr. Schieffer, the Republican called education the “civil-rights issue of the 21st century” and said providing choice and competition among elementary and secondary schools would help improve inequities in the quality of education children receive.
He voiced support for programs like Teach for America and Troops to Teachers. He also urged changes in the student-loan programs that would make sure graduates are given repayment schedules they can meet and that would raise the maximum amount students can borrow in federally supported loans, pegging those increases to the rate of inflation.
Both candidates made passing references to college issues and education policy in other portions of the debate.
During a discussion about trade and energy policy, Senator McCain touted the need to create education and training programs for displaced workers at community colleges.
Senator Obama spoke several times about the need for the nation to make sure more people can go to college and said the government should put more money into education to make sure every young person can learn. He noted that his running mate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., shares his priority about expanding college access.
Crossposted from The Chronicle of Higher Education's Campaign U. blog.