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Students suffer the effects of Bush’s educational policies

Roque Strew | Monday, March 29, 2004

The stately Ionic north portico of the White House is like a broken floodgate. All of President Bush’s lies, perhaps, couldn’t fit in that one building. And so the deluges of mendacity have cascaded down Pennsylvania Avenue. Nothing has been spared. No issue has gone unsullied by the administration’s deceit and sophistry – not the environment, labor, Medicare, WMD, nothing. Overlooked and unglamorous, education is without doubt among the most vital of these issues.Education, after all, is a basic social good. Bush might even concede this much. What he cannot concede on his next “Meet the Press” is that his policies acknowledge this – education’s vital importance. Fealty to the market, or the party line, or God knows what, trumps education for Bush. But where Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a firestorm of resistance to university tuition hikes in England, Bush gets a free pass. Tellingly, one charge leveled against Blair’s plan is that it will reshape the British system in the image of the American – as costly and inaccessible.Let’s begin with one of the Bush’s proudest accomplishments – the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. “Ironic” just doesn’t quite convey the scale of inaccuracy of the law’s name. This year, the administration is giving $9.4 billion less than what is needed to fully fund NCLB. Both Education Week and Harvard’s Civil Rights Project testify that poor students aren’t getting the tutoring promised by NCLB, due to poor implementation and underfunding. Urban minorities, of course, are hit hardest. The de facto title would be No Wealthy White Child Left Behind. Doesn’t quite have the same ring.Wait until the kids grow up. This is the third straight year that Bush either froze or cut the maximum Pell Grant – quite the volte-face from his old campaign promise to increase the maximum, to help make college more affordable. And last year, Bush sought to eliminate Pell Grants entirely for 84,000 students, slashing aid to thousands more. An amendment backed by Democrats luckily prevented this.Republicans have exerted curiously special effort in slighting and burdening college students. Ten days ago, to counter GOP misinformation, Rep. George Miller issued a letter to demolish their untruths, point by point.First he reminded the House that the GOP has “failed to do anything meaningful this Congress” to help students of lesser means afford college. He added to Bush’s record, with Pell Grants, that last year’s maximum grant, adjusted for inflation, was worth $500 less than the max in 1975. And he wondered why nothing has come of Bush’s promise to help community colleges.In a March 17 Washington Post article, Miller quoted a line that nicely captures the GOP agenda: “House Republicans are considering legislation aimed at reducing government subsidies for a federally supported student loan program, a step that critics say could lead to sharp increases in the long-term cost of going to college.” Finally he drew attention to Republican support for a banking industry-backed plan to eliminate students’ ability to lock in low interest rates over the life of their loans. This plan would force the average student borrower to pay more than $6,600 in extra interest, doubling the cost of loans for millions. There’s no room for interpretation here.Vigilant compilers of the Harper’s Index add two worrying stats: America’s total private-loan debt for college tuition has increased by a factor of four since 1995; and a minimum of seven states will raise tuition by 20 percent or more at least one public university. You needn’t be one of the eggheads in sweater vests at the Brookings Institute to spy a trend here. It’s all kinds of wrong. It’s in-your-face wrong.Barbara Ehrenreich in “Class Struggle 101” broke down university financing into a two-pronged approach – raising tuition and lowering staff pay. Notre Dame doesn’t stray too far from this approach. The latest tuition hike here at Notre Dame was 6.9 percent. In Latin America, according to a comparative politics professor, students would take to the streets in protest, railing against a patent injustice. Here we’ve accepted extortion as the norm. And Notre Dame’s record with its staff isn’t exactly pretty – sending workers home early, not hiring replacements for retiring workers and vigorously fighting unionization.Noted in these pages by Kamaria Porter last week, Harvard’s bucking the trend, proffering substantially more aid, for many disposing of tuition altogether. This is on top of such admirable efforts as its successful campaign and sit-in demanding a living wage for Harvard employees. Harvard is blazing the trail to a nobler place, showing schools like ours that there’s a better way.But first this apathetic administration has got to go. For Bush and company, students – especially those from below the upper class – are the last priority. Regardless of what side you’re aligned with, free-education radical or concerned moderate, the fact is that Bush has failed students comprehensively. Moreover, he shows no signs of switching directions. Moral epiphanies are as rare as candor in this administration. Along with the rest of the GOP, Bush is dedicated to indifference. We have to dedicate ourselves to ousting him.

Roque Strew is a junior political science major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at wstrew@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.