MADISON, Wis. - With school referenda on the ballot in many cities this November, the future of schools is an issue for the presidential candidates.
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WISC-TV compared the education positions of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain in a "Reality Check."
Although it has been overshadowed by the economy, public education still ranks as an important issue for voters.
The biggest difference between the two candidates is how they want to improve the country's schools.
Obama's plan would make a significant investment in public education, in the neighborhood of $18 billion a year.
Of that, $10 billion would be spent on early childhood education in quadrupling the number of children in the early Head Start program. The rest would be spent on other initiatives, including an emphasis on middle school success to reduce high school dropout rates and $1 billion in grants for mentoring programs.
"Every dollar we invest in that, we end up getting huge benefits that improve reading scores, improve dropout rates, reduce delinquency rates," Obama said.
McCain's plan to improve schools hinges on a different approach, improving school choice through voucher programs.
"What is the advantage in a low-income area of sending a child to a failed school and that being your only choice?" said McCain.
McCain said he believes programs like those currently in urban areas such as Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee could help increase quality competition and allow parents to choose what school their child attends.
He would also add $20 million in scholarships for needy families to help pay to attend schools.
Both candidates agree the road to quality teachers needs to change as well.
McCain would reallocate federal funds for teacher recruitment and incentive bonuses and ultimately pay teachers based on a merit program.
Obama would allocate $100 million to partner with universities for teacher education and create 40,000 new teaching service scholarships at $25,000 a piece.
When it comes to college, the focus is on affordability.
McCain said he'd adjust student loan eligibility for inflation and expand lending programs to make more quality private student loans.
"As far as college education is concerned, we need to make those student loans available, (and) give them a repayment schedule they can meet," McCain said.
Obama would provide a $4,000 tax credit to offset college costs each year for students who perform 100 hours of community service.
"It's very difficult for them to go into some fields like basic research and science, for example, thinking to themselves that they're going to have a mortgage before they even buy a house," Obama said.
Both candidates said they'd ultimately make reforms to the No Child Left Behind program as well.
McCain said more of a focus should be paid to individual achievement.
Obama said assessments should be changed and mandates in the program should be funded.
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