SOTU education focus highlights funding issues
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 21:01
On Tuesday night, Jan. 24, I watched, along with millions of others, as President Obama gave his third State of the Union address to the nation.
I applauded as I saw the remarkable Gabby Giffords show courage beyond belief as she entered the chamber and even when she hugged the President.
Between you and me, if she makes as full of a recovery as it looks like she may, I wouldn't be surprised to see her, or her husband Mark, on a ticket in a few more years. The chamber fell silent as the President began his remarks.
No doubt, by now, you have heard a lot of rhetoric about some of the numbers surrounding the jobs figures and the success of the auto bailout, so instead I focused in on the education part of the address.
"But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier," the President said.
He touted the "Race to the Top" grant competition that has been going on for a few years in an effort to reform public education.
If you don't know what this is, a lot of states sent proposals into the Department of Education outlining sets of reforms that were supposed to ensure the success of students. The states were to design assessments that would accurately measure a student's ability, and by 2020, should help teachers and administrators improve the overall state of education.
Many of the states that were awarded these grants now say that their plans are failing because the amount of money needed to make the changes were more than the grants.
So, even though the President says that the standards are raising, it seems they may not make the grades he's looking for.
Therefore, the President said that a main tool to solve these still-looming challenges were to have great teachers in place. Effective teachers can make differences when allowed flexibility and creativity while teaching students. A good teacher can change a life.
He also proposed that to help increase graduation rates that the drop-out age should be raised from 16 to 18 years old. This aims to keep students from walking away from education. But, what about after high school?
Obama spoke about higher education and the cost of attending college, something we should all be concerned about.
He put states and their university systems on notice that they should do what they can to cut costs and keep tuition manageable. Luckily for us, Florida universities are still under the national average for tuition costs, $5,626 versus $8,244 respectively, but we are on the rise.
Between the 2010-11 school year and the 11-12 school year tuition rates increased approximately 11.8 percent, according to the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors, who have also submitted a proposed budget that calls for a 14.87 percent total budget increase for the 2012-13 school year, about 6 percent of which comes from tuition support.
Governor Rick Scott made a recent proposal to have universities focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and have those students pay more, but university leaders overwhelming opposed such actions.
President Obama encouraged university leaders to keep college within reach of everyone because "[I]t is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."
Increasing rates on STEM subjects would put them out of reach of more economically disadvantaged students.
Another way the President urged his fellow lawmakers to help those of us in school was to stop the rates of student loans from increasing. For the 2011-12 school year, rates for subsidized student loans are at 3.4 percent as compared to last year at 4.5 percent.
The rates for unsubsidized loans has remained steady at 6.8 percent. According to the website for the Stafford Loan Network, the rates for both loans will be 6.8 percent for the 2012-13 school year.
Personally, as someone with student loans, I hope that Congress does something to stop that from happening. If the costs of going to school outweigh the abilities of what can be done with a degree, like find a job after graduation, then I agree with the President: People won't go. The future of the American education system would be a bleak place and the nation as a whole may fall behind the achievements of other nations.