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SOTU Reax: Higher Ed, Crushing ESEA and Early Childhood Dreams (but a plug for DREAM)?

Despite all the hype leading up to it, there was, as my colleague Andrew Rotherham notes, not a lot of substance on K-12 education in tonight's State of the Union Address. Most of what was there was not new (see below) or feel-goody: calls for parental responsibility, calls to respect teachers, calls on young people to become teachers.

Not only was there not much of a push on ESEA reauthorization, but the dynamic in the room also didn't seem particularly promising there: Sure, there was some clapping for the President's call to "replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids," but the total lack of clapping for RTT, which presumably offers the blueprint of the administration's key priorities for ESEA reauthorization, seems much more telling in terms of the prospects for bipartisan action there.

In light of that and the emphasis on competitiveness, STEM, and higher education in the speech, don't be surprised if we see relatively more attention to higher education going forward--not surprising as we head towards an election year, when college affordability is typically seen as a bigger winner with middle-class voters than ed reform issues. Unfortunately, tonight that meant plugging the administration's $10,000 college tax credit, which, while probably appealing to middle class families concerned with college affordability, is costly (particularly problematic in light of tonight's deficit emphasis and the looming Pell grant shortfall issue), problematic in terms of distributive impacts and interactions with other financial aid programs, and probably doesn't do all that much in terms of moving us toward the President's stated goal of increasing postsecondary attainment to restore the U.S. to first-in-the world in postsecondary attainment by 2020.

I found that the biggest disappointment of the speech as relates to education, followed by the total absence of early childhood (Not that I was expecting to hear anything about early childhood tonight).

But whatever disillusionment I felt was immediately cancelled out by the President's call to "stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation"--invoking both the DREAM Act and the need to enable highly skilled foreign students who earn college or graduate degrees in our postsecondary institutions the opportunity to stay in this country and work. Both steps are the right thing to do on moral grounds and they also help boost our economy and the goal of improving postsecondary attainment rates.

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