Spotlight Exclusives

Bipartisan Momentum Building on Educational Opportunity

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In a building named for Republican senator Lamar Alexander and flanked by the highest-ranking Republicans in Tennessee, President Obama unveiled a plan last Friday to eliminate community college tuition and fees for millions of students. It seemed to be the latest indication that the country is slowly converging on an equitable approach to providing all students, particularly low-income, with educational opportunities throughout their lives.

“To make sure that community college is accessible for everybody,” Obama said in a video message released Thursday, “what I۪d like is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who۪s willing to work for it.”

Obama۪s proposal, named America۪s College Promise, also includes a plan to fund employment-focused programs for low-wage workers to gain skills and experience. It۪s bold, broad, and relatively expensive: the White House estimates it would cost roughly $6 billion per year.

It۪s also not unprecedented. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, pioneered the approach with the Tennessee Promise, which has drawn applications from nearly 90 percent of the state۪s high school seniors. The President۪s proposal expands on this model, opening the program to part-time and older students (“non-traditional” students, who now actually make up a majority at community colleges), and improving the benefits for low-income students, through coordination with Pell grants to help pay for community college tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Meanwhile, Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report last week, highlighting areas of broad bipartisan consensus on early-childhood education. The report finds that legislators on both sides of the aisle are embracing early education as a powerful tool to lift children out of poverty and ensure them greater opportunity in the future.

“From President Barack Obama۪s push for a $75 billion, 10-year federal preschool commitment to efforts by governors, mayors, and state legislatures for new and expanded programs,” the report said, “momentum continues to build.”

From community colleges to preschools to ambitious efforts to combine the two, could education be the new, bipartisan front in the War on Poverty?

Posted by Adam
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