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Concord Monitor: How's Free College Sound?

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Concord Monitor: How's Free College Sound?


Brenda MacLellan let out a loud whoop as presidential candidate Joe Biden outlined his plan for free higher education at a house party in Bradford yesterday. MacLellan, an eighth- grade special education teacher at Londonderry Middle School, doesn't make enough money to pay off her own education loans, let alone help her two college-age sons pay for their education.

One of them already dropped out of college and the other is on the verge, MacLellan said.

If Biden became president, he told the crowd of mostly teachers, he would create a program to offer the first two years of college free for anyone attending a public college or university. Although most of the Delaware senator's speech was devoted to the Middle East yesterday, he received a round of cheers when he began talking about his plans for education just as his aides were trying to usher him out the door to a television appearance.

Gil and Sissi Shattuck hosted the senator and couple dozen voters at the Sissi Art Studio, where he also answered questions about how to get out of Iraq before the next president is elected.

"By the way, you all have to buy a painting before you leave," he said.

Biden said American students will not be able to keep up with students from other countries until we send children to school at a younger age, keep class sizes smaller, offer competitive salaries for teachers and make it possible for more students to attend college.

"Folks, I'm serious. I know you don't like hearing these stark facts, but it's just a fact," he said. "Unless you think our kids are just born naturally brighter than kids around the world in countries we're competing with, then how can they do as well if they don't go to school as long, they don't start school as early and they're in classes where there are more kids than those other countries?"

The good news, Biden said, is that these programs can be funded by eliminating arms development, and getting out of Iraq. The money being spent on the Iraq war could also fund health care for every child in America, and provide catastrophic care for all adults, he said. It could also be funded by repealing a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which costs about $85 billion every year, he said.

"I am so frustrated with the phony morality of the Republicans; I view it as immoral," he said, referring to the tax cut. "It is an immoral choice."

The senator received a few laughs when he recalled his sister, who graduated with higher grades than him, being told that she could become a nurse or a teacher. The school system snagged that entire generation of women at a bargain price, Biden said. But qualified young people can't be expected to take jobs teaching today when the pay is so low, he said.

"You shouldn't have to make the sacrifices you make to do what you love," Biden told Bob Woolner, a Hopkinton geography teacher who presented him with a copy of a senate bill, "Teaching Geography is Fundamental."

Brenda MacLellan's husband, Bob, a social studies teacher at Londonderry Middle School, said he wished the senator had more to talk about his positions on education issues. MacLellan said he has already committed to Barack Obama.

"I like Joe, but at the same time I think it's time for a real Washingtonian change," he said. "That's why I'm with the Obama ticket."

Biden joked his entire staff would be fired after he learned he was supposed to be back in Manchester shortly after the Bradford house party (hence, the rushed exit). It was Rep. Barbara French, a Henniker Democrat, who finally tugged on the back of the senator's shirt to help his aides get his attention - it was time to leave.

"Man, mister eye contact," said one Bradford woman, who only goes by the name Bindy, after Biden left. "Drilled right through you."

"More like mister physical contact," another partygoer added.

Bindy said she hasn't made up her mind about a candidate yet, but said Biden "has always been a voice of clarity and plainspoken." The eye contact means he is unafraid, she added.

"I can ask him and he'll give me the straight scoop," she said.

Mike Bradley, who asked Biden what can be done to get out of Iraq before the next presidential election, said he was not completely satisfied with the candidate's response, but was still impressed by his talk yesterday.

"He seemed like a man of integrity, knowledge and sensible in terms of social programs," Bradley said.

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