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Published: Tuesday, 9/9/2008

Obama pledges to double funding for charter schools; calls troop reduction "modest"

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., waits to speak during a town hall meeting at North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills, Mich., Monday, Sept. 8, 2008. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., waits to speak during a town hall meeting at North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills, Mich., Monday, Sept. 8, 2008.
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RIVERSIDE, Ohio - Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama Tuesday pledged to double federal funding for charter schools, offering choices to parents where, he said, Republican rival John McCain has thrown up obstacles.

"I believe in public schools, but also believe in fostering competition among public schools," Mr. Obama told a crowd of about 750 invited guests and students at Stebbins High School near Dayton.

"Now I know that you’ve had a tough time with for-profit charter schools here in Ohio," he said. "That is why I’ll work with Governor Strickland to hold for-profit charter schools accountable, and I’ll work with all our nation’s governors to hold all our charter schools accountable. Charter schools that are successful will get the support they need to grow, and charters that aren’t will get shut down.’’

While Mr. Obama adamantly opposes taxpayer-financed vouchers to send children to private schools, he has bucked his teachers’ union base by embracing quasi-public charter schools that operate with more freedom than their traditional public brethren.

He also called for increased pay for effective teachers while threatening to replace ineffective teachers.

"Giving our parents real choices about where to send their kids to school also means showing the same kind of leadership at the national level that I did in Illinois when I passed a law to double the number of charter schools in Chicago,’’ said Mr. Obama.

He spoke at roughly the same time that Mr. McCain and running mate Sarah Palin rallied in Republican stronghold Lebanon about 30 miles away, another example of the fight ahead over battleground Ohio’s 20 electoral votes. Enjoying a post-convention bounce in the polls, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama remain in a statistical dead heat for the state that decided the 2004 election.

"Unlike Barack Obama, Senator McCain will do more than give speeches about education reform in this country,’’ said Blair Latoff, spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "He will shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empowering parents, and remove barriers to attract and reward good teachers. Obama’s agenda answers first to unions and entrenched education interests, not the students and parents that Senator McCain puts first."

In Ohio, teacher unions have long fought with little success charter, or community, schools that have enjoyed strong support in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. In 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld their constitutionality by a vote of 4-3, despite arguments from unions that they were draining badly needed dollars from traditional public schools.

Lawmakers, however, have imposed more stringent standards on the schools after some experienced financial problems, failed academic report cards, and fabricated data submitted to the state.

Despite their differences on this issue, there were plenty of people in the audience wearing blue National Education Association for Obama T-shirts in the crowd.

Mr. Obama, whose sister is a teacher, repeated his calls for better access to after-school and summer schools programs, longer school days, and advance placement classes.

"And you know we can do all of this for the cost of just a few days in Iraq. We can do it,’’ he said to the strongest crowd reaction of the speech.

He vowed to reach across the aisle to find solutions while accusing Mr. McCain of being part of the status quo in Washington when it comes to education.

"In the past few weeks, my opponent has taken to talking about the need for change and reform in Washington, where he has been part of the scene for about three decades,’’ he said. "And in those three decades, he has not done one thing to truly improve the quality of public education in our country. Not one real proposal or law or initiative. Nothing.’’

He accused Mr. McCain of failing to fully fund No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s academic accountability reforms, and of advocating for the dismantling of the Department of Education.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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