by Félix Pérez
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan laid out their sharply different visions for restoring the middle class last night, with Ryan characterizing educators as an “interest group” that benefited from President Barack Obama’s economic recovery initiative, which is credited with preventing the layoffs of more than 400,000 educators.
Congressman Ryan, the architect of a controversial budget passed by the House in March, condemned President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a failure. “Was it a good idea to borrow all this money from countries like China and spend it on all these various different interest groups?” Ryan asked.
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President Obama’s recovery package is credited with keeping educators in the classroom and in schools, helping to keep class sizes from increasing even further as states and cities laid off hundreds of thousands of educators and other public service workers.
Lisa Petrey-Kirk, an eighth grade social studies teacher from Anderson County, Ky., attended the debate. In an interview with Education Votes, Petrey-Kirk said she was troubled by Ryan’s lack of specifics. “As (Biden and Ryan) were talking, I sat there listening with my educator ears for who will be there for public education and the middle class. It was obvious that Ryan fell short.”
Debate moderator Martha Raddatz pressed Ryan on how he and Romney would pay for the Romney-Ryan tax proposal, which analysts say would:
- Slash education funding by $115 billion over 10 years – hurting the neediest students and causing class sizes to rise even further
- Eliminate Head Start enrollment slots for 2 million kids, and
- Cut Pell Grants for more than 9 million students seeking a college education.
Raddatz tried to get Ryan to explain how he and Romney will cut taxes for everyone — including people earning more than $1 million — while not cutting funding for education, health care and other programs for middle class and struggling families: “You have refused to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?”
After offering a lengthy example of how Republicans and Democrats reached a bipartisan tax agreement nearly 30 years ago, Ryan said, “We want to work with Congress — we want to work with the Congress on how best to achieve this. That means successful. Look . . .”
Raddatz interjected, “No specifics, again.”
Arizona high school math teacher Dennis Van Roekel was not impressed with Ryan’s explanations. “The proof is in black and white. Romney and Ryan want our students to get as much education as they can afford. They can’t just shake the Etch-a-Sketch and make the facts and figures in Paul Ryan’s budget plan disappear.”
Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, added:
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have made it abundantly clear that they support the interests of corporate America and the wealthy over America’s students. They can’t say they support education and America’s students when their budget priorities deliver a totally different message.”
Adam Spinks, a senior at Western Kentucky University and a future educator, was also at the debate. He told Education Votes, “I think both candidates made it very clear what their visions are.” Spinks, president of the Student Program for the Kentucky Education Association, said, “In my opinion, the vice president made it clear he will stand with educators, students with special needs and middle class communities.”