Education Is a Hot Topic at the Democratic National Convention

The Republican and Democratic Party's plans for education vary—especially regarding government interference and student loans.

michelle obama dnc
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about higher education at the DNC. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters Pictures)
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Education is at the forefront of the Democratic platform and speeches at the party’s national convention this week in Charlotte, NC.

On Tuesday night, speakers including San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and First Lady Michelle Obama mentioned education in their speeches.

Castro said, “We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow. And it starts with education.”

More: Obama’s Education Hits and Misses

Patrick focused on Orchard Gardens Elementary School in Boston, a poor school with little hope. “Today, thanks to a host of new tools, many enacted with the help of the Obama administration, Orchard Gardens is turning itself around,” he told the convention crowd. “Teaching standards and accountabilities are higher. The school day is longer and filled with experiential learning, art, exercise and music.”

Michelle Obama talked about the college debt she and her husband faced as a young married couple. “We were so young, so in love and so in debt.”

The Democratic Party’s 2012 national party platform shares a similar message, touting Obama’s education successes while linking the economy and the middle class to the need for higher education and technical trades.

“Democrats believe that getting an education is the surest path to the middle class, giving all students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and contribute to our economy and democracy,” the 40-page platform document states. “Public education is one of our critical democratic institutions.”

The platform mentions many of Obama’s accomplishments over the last three and a half years, including:

  • Raising standards to compete in a global economy. According to the platform document, 46 states responded to the president’s call to do so.
  • Saving 400,000 educator jobs through stimulus funds. A recent study by the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University echoed these statistics.
  • Reforming the student loan process. Such reform saved students more than $60 billion by removing banks as the middleman.

The platform also highlights the need for community colleges, which has been a pet project for Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. Jill Biden, a community college professor at Northern Virginia Community College, has long been an advocate for the two-year colleges. The Democratic Party stresses the importance of linking these institutions to businesses that need a strong and educated job force.

Obama’s DREAM Act, too, makes an appearance in the platform, a smart choice considering the Latino vote is a key demographic for Obama’s re-election chances in November.

“And to make this country a destination for global talent and ingenuity, we won’t be deporting young people who are Americans in every way but on paper…” the document states.

The Democratic Party’s platform vastly differs from the Republicans.

The Tea Party has had a growing influence on many of the latter’s ideas. The Republican Party would prefer more private student loans and less federal loans for college. The GOP also heavily emphasizes school choice and home schooling and less government interference in both.

“Parents are responsible for the education of their children,” the 2012 Republican Party platform stated. “We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level.”

The Democratic Party platform hits Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hard on education.

“Mitt Romney has a radically different vision,” it states. “He supports dramatic cuts to Head Start and the Pell Grant program. Tuition at public colleges has soared over the last decade and students are graduating with more and more debt; but Mitt Romney thinks students should ‘shop around’ for the ‘best education they can afford.’ ”

The Democratic platform didn’t quote the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, but perhaps it should have.

“A third place to build the Great Society is in the classrooms of America,” he said in a May 1964 speech at the University of Michigan. “There your children's lives will be shaped. Our society will not be great until every young mind is set free to scan the farthest reaches of thought and imagination. We are still far from that goal.”

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