Microsoft founder Bill Gates is putting up half the money for a $60 million campaign to get presidential candidates to focus on the topic of education. Former Colorado Governor Roy Romer is heading up the campaign which is dubbed "ED in 08".
"Presidential campaigns are the time in which America begins to ask the (questions): What’s our future? How do we prepare for it?" Romer says. "There (are) some very obvious issues. We’ve got the war we’ve got to solve. We’ve got global warming. We’ve got health care, but let me say one of the greatest issues that faces this country is the education of our citizens."
Romer and the "ED in 08" group are pushing Iowans to pester the presidential candidates for specific answers, such as what they’d do to impose more uniform standards for the 14,000 public school districts in the country.
"We are in a world economy in which we just simply cannot afford to have 1.2 million drop-outs in our high schools a year," Romer says. "…Therefore, the federal government has got an economic and a vested interest to try to say, ‘States, we need to address this. We need to address this together…Let’s work it out.’"
Two former Iowa governors are joining in the "ED in 08" campaign effort, too. Former Governor Robert Ray says it’s time to "upscale" the learning process in American schools. "Education lies in the heart of every important issue during the presidential contest," Ray says. "If we can’t get this issue right, we’ll have a terrible time solving the other issues facing us both now and in the future."
According to Ray, Iowans know how to get presidential candidates to answer the tough questions. "We don’t respond very well to sound bites or lip service. Iowans want to hear the essence of the candidates’ thinking on the issues that the voters care about," Ray says. "So, today, this is a uniting call for candidates running for president: If you want our votes, then tell us how you will move to help assure that our kids will succeed."
Former Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who is a lobbyist for the National Education Association — and who dropped out of the presidential race this spring and then endorsed Hillary Clinton, says the road to the presidency goes right through Iowa and that’s why the "ED in 08" campaign is focusing its efforts here.
"This is an important initiative to make sure that education receives as much attention as many of the other issues that are being debated and discussed in presidential politics today," Vilsack says.
The three governors spoke this morning at a news conference in Des Moines to kick-off the national campaign.
Abby Bowman, a Johnston High School graduate who will enter Princeton this fall, is part of the Iowa team leading the effort. She is urging her peers to "speak up" and demand answers from the presidential candidates.
"As I look across the country at my peers, at my generation, I don’t think that we’re coming out of college and out of high school with the skills and tools that we really need in order to succeed in the global economy," Bowman says.
Organizers expect Bill Gates to show up in Iowa, at some point, to publicize the "ED in 08" campaign.