Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians clashed over teacher unions, school vouchers and No Child Left Behind legislation in a student debate held Wednesday about America’s education system.
Students for Education Reform hosted the debate to encourage a bipartisan exchange of ideas, according to Kate Ginsbern ’12, vice president of leadership development for the organization and moderator of the event. The group, now in its second semester on campus, aims to “enlist leaders from across the aisle to come together to solve these problems,” Ginsbern said.
The debate, however, was marked by partisanship and attacks from all sides. The parties contested each other’s statistics and said their opponents’ policies had failed America’s education system.
Libertarians charged the Cornell Democrats of straying from the state and national Democratic Party platforms. When disagreeing with the Democratic stance against a voucher system for education, Libertarian Jacob Arluck ’14 said that “you guys created the Department of Education.”
Later, the Libertarians countered the Cornell Democrats’ position on No Child Left Behind with the accusation that the Cornell Democrats’ position contradicted both the Democratic national platform and President Obama’s education platform.
Republican Justin Digennaro ’12 criticized Democrats for what he said was their fiscally irresponsible approach to education reform.
“Libertarians believe the federal government should play no role, we believe the federal government should play a moderate role, and the Democrats believe that, as usual, any solution can be found by throwing money at the problem,” Digennaro said.
Democratic speaker Tony Montgomery ’13 criticized what he saw as “nitpicking over cost-benefit analysis [and] treating schools like a business.”
“They’re not a business. Businesses can fail, and one thing we can’t afford to have fail is our schools,” Montgomery said.
Digennaro responded to Montgomery’s argument, saying, “you could make a rhetorical point that schools can’t fail in this country, but schools have failed in this country, and teacher’s unions have played a large part in that.”
Arluck criticized the Democratic speakers for, he said, extolling the virtues of a public education that is, in fact, broken.
“It’s kind of silly to be talking about this awesome public sector that’s failing American students,” Arluck said.
One Democratic rebuttal questioned a Libertarian claim that one state spent $500,000 on firing three teachers. Montgomery asked on what grounds the teachers were fired and called the number “misleading.”
Arluck also said he found it “unbelievable that African-Americans vote for Democrats when they have been constrained by them in terms of geography for years.” Arluck said that the education system, as run by Democrats, is unable to address specific ethnic concerns in specific area.
Democrat Max McCullough ’12 said that the Libertarian plan for education reform would involve “turning our backs on the public education system that has made America great.”
The Republicans also criticized Libertarians for, they said, presuming to know how to restructure the education system. They described the current system as having a libertarian structure, numbering among the educational failings a lack of charter schools, high costs and pay based on teachers’ seniority.
After the debate, Ginsbern, the moderator, said that education reform is an “issue that both parties have a tremendous interest in rallying together to solve, one party doesn’t have to win and the other to lose for us to make solutions.”