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Race to the Finish: Obama, Romney Make Last-Minute Appeals to Voters on Education

Takepart.com

As Election Day approaches, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are busy making their closing arguments.

Both candidates zig-zagged through the country over the weekend, trying to woo undecided voters and reinforce get-out-the-vote efforts. Obama often highlighted education in his final speeches as a presidential candidate.

At an Ohio school on Saturday, Obama said, “So let me tell you about change over the next four years. Change is a country where every young American has a shot at a good education.”

More: Obama’s Education Hits and Misses

He said that parents had to step up to the plate and help their children, but also students had to study. Obama added, “But don’t tell me that hiring more teachers won’t help grow this economy. Don’t tell me that students who can’t afford college should just borrow money from their parents.”

In Romney’s closing speeches, the focus was all economy – most of the time. However, in the Republican Party weekly address Romney delivered on Saturday, he mentioned five goals. He said little about education except: “Second, we’ll make sure our students and workers have the skills they need to succeed.”

Obama dove deeper into his plans for education this weekend.

He said that he wants to “cut the growth of tuition in half over the next 10 years” and recruit more math and science teachers – 100,000 to be exact. Obama also wants to train two million Americans at community colleges.

“That’s how you grow an economy,” he said. “That’s how you create jobs. Educate folks, make sure we’ve got the best workers in the world. That’s what will attract more companies to want to start here and stay here.”

During the summer, Obama and Romney focused little on education during campaign speeches. That changed once Romney picked Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, and both Republican and Democratic parties started planning their national conventions.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the GOP’s fiscal plan architect, is a strong advocate for slashing public education. The seven-term Wisconsin congressman is a strong critic of Obama’s educational policy, including his “Race To The Top” initiative. He has called for slashing Pell Grants, student loans and job-training programs.

But for all the differences between Ryan and Obama’s policies, Romney has taken to echoing Obama’s platform on education over the last few weeks. Obama, unlike many Democrats, does not oppose charter schools and wants to see evaluation standards for teachers. Romney has said that these Obama initiatives “make sense” while arguing that Washington should have less control of education.

But one stark contrast between Romney and Obama is financial aid for college students. Obama won approval from Congress for a $10,000 college tax credit over four years and increases in Pell Grants.

Obama created the “Pay As You Earn” program that allows students to repay federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their income and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years of consistent payments.

Obama also took private lenders out of the equation for student loans. Now the federal government makes loans directly to students. Analysts have projected it will save the federal government $68 billion over 11 years.

Romney wants to re-introduce private lenders to the federal loan program. He is also against any debt forgiveness to college students.

“Don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on,” Romney said in March at a town hall event in Youngstown, Ohio.

Romney also infamously said in another Ohio speech to college students during the spring, “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”

Those words came back to haunt Romney in the closing hours of the campaign.

“Don’t tell me that students who can’t afford college should just borrow money from their parents,” Obama said in various campaign speeches through swing states. “That wasn’t an option for me; it probably wasn’t an option for a whole lot of you.”

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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com 

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