The Columbus Dispatch - Obama Proposes Doubling Federal Funding for Charter Schools at Dayton Campaign Stop
Sen. Barack Obama today proposed doubling federal funding for public charter schools, the same schools that Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and an Ohio teachers' union have opposed.
Spelling out his education agenda before a crowd of about 750 inside the Stebbins High School gymnasium just northeast of Dayton, Obama spoke to bread-and-butter issues for teachers, stressing the need for financial support and a desire to go beyond teaching to standardized tests. At the same time he dipped into some generally Republican-backed ideals, such as charter schools, teacher performance pay and getting rid of teachers who don't perform.
As Sen. John McCain and his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin make headway in the polls with a message of change and a maverick image, Obama stressed the need to set aside the typical left-versus-right fights over public education.
"There's been partisanship, and there's bickering, but there's no understanding that both sides have good ideas that we'll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need," Obama said.
Strickland has proposed eliminating for-profit charter schools in Ohio, and has generally opposed school choice, arguing it diverts resources away from public schools. The Ohio Federation of Teachers also has been highly critical of charter school operators, asking for an Internal Revenue Service investigation into schools run by White Hat Management, home of major Ohio GOP contributor David Brennan of Akron.
Obama's plan would increase federal funding for the schools from $200 million to more than $400 million.
"I know you've had a tough time with for-profit charter schools here in Ohio," Obama said. "That is why I'll work with Gov. Strickland to hold for-profit charter schools accountable."
Obama also said there's a difference between his support for school choice and that of McCain.
"John McCain will say he's arguing for choice by allowing money and students to drain out of the public schools," Obama said. "I believe in the public schools, but I also believe in fostering competition within the public schools."
The McCain campaign called that a desperate attack.
"Nothing that John McCain has proposed would reduce funding for public schools, but in fact he has pledged additional funds to improve education -- and Barack Obama knows it," said Tucker Bounds, McCain campaign spokesman.
Obama campaign officials realized that not all of his plans would go over big with teachers unions. However, the invited audience, which included a number of folks from the public education community, gave him a number of strong ovations.
"He goes to the basics of what you need," said Donna Holt of Kettering, a retired Dayton City Schools teacher. Asked if she was worried about a charter school expansion, she said, "not with him. I think he thought it all out very well."
Melissa Cropper, a librarian in the Georgetown school district in southwest Ohio, said she liked that the fact that Obama specifically cited support for "public" charter schools. She can go along with the plan, "As long as we keep things in the public school system."
She also likes his talk of teacher accountability. "Teachers are the biggest proponents of high-quality teachers in the classroom."
Patti Leppla, a speech pathologist at Valley View Local schools in southwest Montgomery County, was among those in the crowd wearing a blue "NEA for Obama" shirt. She said that while funding public schools should be a priority, she sees the appeal of charter schools in some areas.
"If you are a parent and your child only has three years in a school, and it's a failing school, you don't have the luxury of waiting five years for the school to improve," she said. "Senator Obama is not trying to make it a divisive issue."
However, Leppla said she still wants to hear more details about his charter school plans. "I am concerned about diverting money from public schools."
Obama took a handful of shots at McCain, who was speaking this morning to a crowd in Lebanon about 30 miles away, arguing that in the Republican's nearly three decades in Congress, "he has not done one thing to truly improve the quality of public education in our country."
Obama criticized McCain for calling for the abolishment of the Ohio Department of Education and for not advocating full funding for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"After three decades of indifference on education, do you really believe that John McCain is going to make a difference now?" Obama said, adding that McCain "doesn't get it."