Congressional Candidates Weigh in on Education Reform
By Sean Powers
The candidates running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district have their own thoughts about the federal government’s role in funding education and making it more effective.
About 10 percent of the funding for primary and secondary education in Illinois comes from the federal government. That may not seem like a lot, but when some school districts are making tough choices, like closing buildings and cutting staff, every penny counts.
Democrat David Gill of Bloomington said the federal government needs to step up to the plate by making education a higher priority. For example, Gill said money spent on the war in Iraq could now be diverted to funding education at home.
“If we could go back in time and take the money we poured into that intervention, and instead say, ‘You know what? How about making education of our young people one of the highest priorities?’” Gill said. “You could fund college for every B average kid coming out of high school. You could fund college for 50-to-100 years.”
Gill also said he would like to increase funding for Pell Grants for college students, rather than relying so much on student loans. One way he would do that is by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“When you say, ‘Alright, we will tax millionaires and billionaires. We will have corporations begin to pay taxes again in this country,’ then you have the money to put into Pell Grants rather than going the opposite way,” he said.
Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville said there is a role for the federal government in supporting schools, but he wants control to remain at the local level.
“I think if you look overall at the federal rule in our primary and secondary education system, it’s tantamount to not enough money, too many regulations,” Davis said.
For many people who are unemployed, a next option is going back to school. But Davis said that is not easy for everyone to do.
He said people risk losing their unemployment benefits when they get into a workers training program, or a college or university. If elected, he would push to change that.
“Let’s imagine if we allowed those who are unemployed, looking for a new career to go back to school or to go through that training program - maybe at their own dime – let’s allow them the opportunity to do that while still remaining on unemployment so that they can raise their families,” Davis said.
The third contender in the race is Independent Candidate John Hartman of Edwardsville, who is the only person running with experience teaching in a classroom. He worked in public schools in Missouri for several years. Hartman said he doesn’t have a problem with the way schools are currently funded.
“If we’re going to have fiscal discipline on the federal level, it’s going to apply to across the board,” Hartman said. “You know if we don’t have the money to match our revenues, we need to both raise revenues and cut spending, and that applies to all areas of spending, including education. Until we can get back in balance.”
Hartman believes the federal government needs to have a limited role in operating schools since it provides the smallest amount of education funding. When it comes to assessing classroom performance; he thinks standardized testing shouldn’t be the only measurement of a student’s progress.
“You can’t teach unless you you’re continually assessing and adjusting learning activity for the student based on what they know, and I feel I was able to do that fairly well,” Hartman said. “A lot of my assignment was to challenge the high achieving students in math and science, and I gave it to them and they responded.”
The winner of the 13th Congressional race may vote on re-authorizing No Child Left Behind, which seeks to raise reading and math scores for all students by 2014.
The nation is far behind on reaching that goal, and Hartman and Gill say they worry No Child Left Behind leads to a heavy emphasis on teaching to the test.
All three candidates support revising the law.