Education is a public good, not a commodity


Barack Obama’s record and vision on education stands in stark contrast to the approach favored by Romney. Now, to be sure, Obama has rankled many of those on the left with some of his education policies.

For instance, the Race to the Top initiative rewarded states that increased the number of charter schools, put in place teacher evaluation systems, and relied more heavily on standardized testing. And while he has yet to comprehensively revisit and revise No Child Left Behind, Obama has offered states relief from some of its most severe mandates which are due to kick in by 2014. With these policies, he has taken a more moderate approach that has not always played well with the base of the Democratic Party.

But with these reforms, the Obama administration has also promised to reward school districts across the country with more resources.

On the whole, however, there can be little denying that Obama sees education as the public good that it is. This is why he appropriated $100 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to education. At a time when state budgets were cratering, Obama saved 300,000 education jobs and prevented more than 160,000 teachers from being laid off or fired—something that would have begun the wholesale dismantling of public education in the United States.

This is why he took the bold step to remove the “middleman” in the college loan process by making the government the prime lender for student loans. With the savings from the sweetheart deal for banks, Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants to $17 billion and raised the amount of each award by more than 10 percent. More than 9 million college students took advantage of Pell Grants in 2011—a 50-percent increase from 2008.

The unprecedented levels of investment Obama has made in education through these policies and others (including tax credits for families to send their children to college and competitive grants for community colleges) undergirds his administration’s view that education is a public good for all to share—not because it is based on some idea of bleeding heart “charity” or, as the Tea Party likes to remind us, that he is a “socialist.”

It is in keeping with the most fundamental of all beliefs that Americans hold dear: The way to upward mobility is through self-improvement, and the way to self-improvement is through education.

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