Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson unveiled his national education policy in New Hampshire today. Richardson made it clear right off the bat what he would do with No Child Left Behind. “My Democratic opponents have been cautious in confronting President Bush on this issue,” Richardson said. “Just as they trusted him on the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, they trusted him on No Child Left Behind. Now some say fix it; others say tweak it. Senator Clinton says reform it. I have two words for No Child Left Behind: scrap it. The key to a good education is not narrow testing or Washington wisdom. The key is a good teacher in every classroom. When I am President, teachers will have a national average starting salary of $40,000. I also vow to hire 100,000 new math and science teachers.”

Richardson’s $60 billion plan would cover the entire education system. “As President, I will provide universal access to quality pre-K programs to all four-year-olds,” Richardson said. “I also will fund Head Start fully. The benefits of early education are clear and extensive. We put in place a full-day kindergarten program and initiated statewide pre-K for every four-year-old in New Mexico.”

He also said that he would put the arts back in school by offering federal matching funds to arts programs. “Arts education is not a silver bullet, but it is a lighted bridge,” Richardson said. “Students who engage in the arts are more likely to get involved in community and charitable work. These students also perform better in the classroom. I will substantially increase investment in arts-in-education programs. I will pay for musical instruments and music teachers in underserved communities around the country. The federal government will offer extra matching funds to states that draw up their own comprehensive art programs.”

Richardson wants to create a national service program to help students pay for college. “As President, I will create a national service program that pays for two years of college in return for one year of service,” Richardson said. “We need more college graduates, and we need more men and women who are willing to serve their fellow citizens. The spirit of service that fought the Nazis in the forties and sustained the Peace Corps in the sixties still is alive and well in America today.”

The New Mexico governor said that he would pay for his plan by cutting the Pentagon’s budget. “The vision I have outlined is bold and comprehensive,” Richardson said. “It also is expensive. Unlike the timid plans of others, mine is a $60 billion investment in our nation’s future. To those who ask how we can afford it, let me be specific. I will cut billions of dollars in loan subsidies to private banks and lenders. Furthermore, last week I outlined a detailed plan for defense modernization that saves $57 billion by cutting Pentagon waste and outdated, unnecessary weapons systems, many of which were designed for the Cold War. I issue a challenge to each of my opponents: be bold and be specific. Follow my lead and tell America how you will make our education system the greatest in the world.”

I have no problem with education plan’s as long as leave the control of education in the hands of state governments and school boards. Richardson deserves props for saying that he would get rid of the terribly misguided No Child Left Behind. A program that teaches standardized tests is not the solution. However wouldn’t Richardson’s plan be better if instead of giving matching federal dollars for arts programs, the money was used for math and science programs? He is willing to hire more teachers, so why not reward districts that create new programs?  

Universal pre-K is a standard Democratic desire. This plan has lots of bells and whistles, but I really don’t see how it addresses the needs of our current system. Richardson has devised a plan than tinkers around the edges, but does not deal with the fundamental shortcomings in curriculum, and teacher availability, and not just in math and science, that plague many districts. The federal government could be doing more to help states and districts, but instead of real help all too often they are given political shell games like NCLB. Richardson’s plan is on the right track, but it still misses on some of the key issues.

Richardson’s Education policy 

Jason Easley is the politics editor at www.411mania.com/politics His column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jason is also the host of TPU Radio, which can be heard at www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse every Sunday morning at 11 AM ET.

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