FUTURE OF THE WORKFORCE: OBAMA
SPECIFIC POLICY POSITIONS
Obama says that the United States should lead the world in college graduation rates by 2020. He has pushed to expand the size of, and access to, Pell Grants for students from low-income families, increasing the maximum per-student amount. Recently, Obama shifted attention to student loans, spending a week this spring advocating congressional action to prevent the 3.4 percent student-loan interest rate from doubling. Obama has launched an aggressive campaign promoting community colleges. He has also hit high tuition rates and warned universities that their federal funding could be reduced if they don’t rein in costs.
Obama considers the Education Department’s Race to the Top competitive-grant program, which encourages state-level school reforms, to be one of his crowning domestic-policy achievements. His budget for fiscal year 2013 includes $850 million for the program, down from its $4.35 billion level in the 2009 economic-stimulus bill. He has also pushed for tougher teacher evaluations based on student test scores, a controversial requirement for some Race to the Top funding. He backs the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort to set uniform career- and college-readiness standards in all schools.
In March, the White House unveiled Obama’s job-training strategy—“a streamlined reemployment system.” He wants to unify training programs online under an “American Jobs Center” and invest more in counseling. Displaced workers could be eligible for $4,000 in annual training awards, for up to two years, and weekly stipends to cover expenses as they search for work. Older people could receive up to two years of wage insurance to ease the transition to jobs that pay less than their previous ones.
Obama wants to boost high-skilled immigration by attaching green cards to Ph.D.s or diplomas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics earned in the U.S. He also advocates a new start-up visa, encouraging foreign entrepreneurs who receive U.S. investment to set up shop here, giving them permanent residency if their businesses create domestic jobs and generate revenue. The Dream Act, an extension of Obama’s focus on high-skilled immigration, creates a pathway to permanent residency for longtime undocumented immigrants who want to go to college.
Unions cheer Obama for the trio of recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board he made in February and for his support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions. Teachers unions have chafed at his push to tie teacher evaluations to test scores.
Obama has been a strong proponent of education funding. In 2009, he dedicated roughly $100 billion of his $787 billion stimulus package to education, according to the Education Department. He has staved off the most draconian of Congress’s proposed cuts to education programs, and he saved Pell Grant funding.
RACE TO THE TOP
The 2009 stimulus package allocated $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top fund, to be distributed among states for education reform. By January, the initiative had helped one of every three states, while using less than 1 percent of total education spending for the program, according to the White House.
Obama announced an $8 billion “Community College to Career Fund” in February. Touted by Jill Biden, the goal is to help community colleges and businesses train 2 million workers for high-demand industries.
Arne Duncan: The Education secretary is a longtime friend of Obama’s and an ardent champion of school reforms. Duncan started his career at a nonprofit that funded college educations for inner-city students in Chicago, and he spent seven years as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools.
Cecilia Muñoz: An experienced civil-rights advocate and veteran of the National Council of La Raza, Munoz has spent her career fighting for immigrants’ rights. Her portfolio broadened earlier this year when she became director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Alan Krueger: As a labor economist and current chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Krueger plays a key role in developing Obama’s jobs policies, making sure they have a strong link to economic growth. He served as the Labor Department’s chief economist in the mid-’90s.
Jill Biden: Obama deputized the vice president’s wife, a longtime community-college instructor, as the face of the administration’s push to raise awareness of and increase access to community colleges.
FUTURE OF THE WORKFORCE: ROMNEY
SPECIFIC POLICY POSITIONS
Romney has promised to reintroduce private banks to the student-loan market, undoing a centerpiece of Obama’s education plan that Romney says “nationalized” the market. To offset “massive increases” in the size of the Pell Grant program, Romney says he will refocus those funds on only the neediest students. He plans to scale back the Education Department’s data-collection requirements and instead partner with the private sector to measure institutional success. Romney promises to unwind “complicated and unnecessary” regulations.
Expanding school choice, measuring school performance, and implementing teacher evaluations are the three legs to Romney’s K-12 plan. School choice is the boldest of his promises. He wants to require states to give disadvantaged students open enrollment at any school, public or private; the plan would upend the current system in which communities dole out federal dollars to schools with the highest percentage of low-income or disabled students. He would require states to eliminate caps on charter and digital schools and to issue simple report cards on each of their schools. Romney’s plan would eliminate the current law’s “highly qualified” teacher-certification requirement and make block grants available to states that work to improve teacher effectiveness.
Romney would consolidate various federal retraining programs into a block grant for states. He also backs personal reemployment accounts, a George W. Bush-era proposal that lets the unemployed choose how to use cash aid—toward community-college classes or other forms of training. Romney says that the government should reimburse training costs for companies that train and hire jobless workers.
Romney’s position on high-skilled immigration is similar enough to Obama’s that their plans share imagery—both mention “stapling” green cards to the diplomas of math, science, and engineering students studying here. Romney backs raising the cap on H-1B visas for highly skilled workers and would make mandatory the currently voluntary “E-Verify” system under which employers electronically check the citizenship status of their hires. As governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, and he has vowed to veto the proposed federal legislation, the Dream Act. He has recently indicated that he’s “studying” the scaled-back version of the Dream Act proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Romney opposes “card-check” legislation that would allow workers to organize unions and elect leaders more easily, and he supports a measure that would require the use of secret ballots in all union elections. He plans to use the bully pulpit, if elected, to promote right-to-work laws at the state level.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a bill in 2004 that would have allowed illegal immigrants who graduated from state high schools to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.
Romney also vetoed a state freeze on opening charter schools in 2004, arguing that it was not consistent with the Legislature’s budget, which included $37 million to compensate local districts for funds lost to educate charter students, The Boston Globe reported at the time.
Early in his tenure as governor, Romney wrestled with public-employee labor unions over their steering half a dollar of state employees’ weekly paychecks to political action committees, The Boston Globe reported. If elected, Romney would propose legislation banning such practices.
Rod Paige: Who better to advise you on education policy than someone who once implemented it? Paige was secretary of Education during President George W. Bush’s first term.
John Bailey: A former member of George W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Council, Bailey has emerged as a key adviser on immigration and technology. He also served as deputy policy director at the Commerce Department.
Emily Stover DeRocco: One of Romney’s point people on job training, DeRocco recently joined the Romney campaign after a stint at a nonpartisan arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. Before joining NAM, she was Bush’s assistant secretary of Labor for employment and training.
Kris Kobach: The Kansas secretary of state has become something of a torchbearer for far-right opposition to the Dream Act. His clout as a Romney adviser has been in question recently; the campaign has said that Kobach is merely a “supporter.”
This article appears in the June 2, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.