By Leslie Cantu
Fort Dorchester High School students got a chance to do the quizzing Wednesday when they asked questions of four candidates for the 1st Congressional district seat in a nearly two-hour forum at the school.
Candidates Tim Scott of the Republican Party, Keith Blandford of the Libertarian Party, Rob Groce of the Working Families Party and Mac McCullough of the United Citizens Party answered questions before a few hundred students on issues including Social Security solvency, same-sex marriage and, of course, education.
One student wanted to know why students today need more credits to graduate than in generations past -- are students today not as bright, she asked. Meanwhile, another wanted to know why the state has the third-highest standards in the nation if it also has a 40 percent dropout rate.
Scott, who acknowledged he needed only 18 credits to graduate compared to today's 24, said the increased number of required credits is meant to improve test scores. Poverty is still a greater factor in test scores, though, he said.
Similarly, the expectation of imposing higher standards is that it will erode the dropout rate, Scott said. The dropout class of 2005 will cost the state $5 billion in additional assistance over their lifetimes, he said.
Education should be connected more closely to the skills needed by the workforce, Scott said. Not everyone wants to go to college, he said, but those who don't go to college can still make a good living if they have a skill.
Groce said funding for education needs to improve at the national level. Right now most schools are focused on test scores, he said, but "that's not helping you."
Blandford advocated eliminating the federal Education Department.
"It is redundant. It is unnecessary," he said.
Look to its track record, he said -- "how did No Child Left Behind go?"
McCullough warned students that those without educations, whether of the college or skilled variety, are doomed to the most menial of labor.
The candidates represented a spectrum of views on same-sex marriage. Scott opposes it. Blandford said the issue is one in which the roles of government and of society must be teased apart.
In most cases people want to get married for the tax benefits, so dismantling the IRS would kill the incentive, he said.
"You eliminate the IRS, you eliminate discussion," he said.
Groce said there's no legal argument against same-sex marriage. It neither affects anyone else's rights nor imposes costs on the government, he said.
McCullough said the government should get out of the marriage business altogether and instead offer legal unions. If couples want the additional, religious aspect of marriage, they could then get married in the church, he said.
After the forum, student Drew Emerson, 18, said he was disappointed that Scott left early and that Democrat Ben Frasier didn't appear. He liked Blandford's answers, he said.
"He got my vote," Emerson said.
Student Jason Kinard, however, thought his question about Social Security didn't get a real answer. Kinard asked Groce about Groce's statement that Social Security isn't in jeopardy and requires no changes. The system can be sustained without additional funding until 2037 and after that could continue to pay 75 percent of benefits, he said.
The student wondered why Groce didn't cite a source for his statement.
Scott told the students the ratio of workers to retirees has decreased from 40 to 1 at the outset of the Social Security system to 3 to 1 today. At the same time, he said, the life expectancy of retirees has increased from three years to 15 years. The system just isn't sustainable, he said.
The Social Security trustees' 2010 report does say the system can pay benefits through 2037. It would do so by drawing down reserves. It could then pay 75 percent of benefits through 2084, based solely on revenues from paycheck withholding, the report said.
However, the trustees also urge that action be taken sooner rather than later to address the long-term financial challenges.
Unfortunately, said Kinard, who held a front-row seat throughout the forum, he can't vote this year because he is only 16.