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The Elephant in the (Class)room

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With the election campaign in full swing, it's clear that the economy is stealing the show. While most Americans would agree that the economy is certainly in better shape today than in 2008 -- the year of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression -- a recent study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that budget numbers for our schools are even worse than they were during the recession.

According to the Center, elementary and high schools in more than half of all states in the U.S. are receiving less funding in the 2012-13 school year than they did last year, and in 35 states, school funding now stands below 2008 levels -- often far below. In some states, these funding cuts have been modest, but in many states they come on top of severe cuts made in previous years, and as a result, school funding remains well below pre-recession levels.

Yet when Republicans and Democrats laid out their platforms at their respective conventions, while education was certainly addressed, it was by no means a top priority. Don't believe it? Check out the numbers below, which illustrate how many times key issues were mentioned in speeches by all speakers at both conventions:

Jobs: 556
Economy: 313
Education: 152
Teacher: 60

While the speakers from each convention touched on the issue of education and the value of teachers, there was a conspicuous lack of discussion about one of the most important elements that make it possible: adequate funding. For example:

  • Mitt Romney: "... an America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads to a good job and a bright horizon, and unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs."
  • Bill Clinton: "We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us."
  • Rand Paul: "Without the success of American business, we wouldn't have any roads, bridges or schools."
  • Barack Obama: "Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life."

In order for students to receive a fulfilling education and become leaders of a country with a robust economy, it's critical that teachers have the resources to teach students, and that schools have the money to provide basic school supplies.

While speeches emphasized the correlation between high-quality education and economic prosperity, there was less acknowledgment of the connection between adequate school funding and high-quality education. Much more needs to be done to provide children, and their teachers, with the tools they need to succeed. As Xavier Becerra put it at the Democratic National Convention, "If you want to get America back to work, you don't fire cops, teachers, nurses, and firefighters -- you invest in them."

And as Jeb Bush said at the Republican National Convention, "The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn't exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all. That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time and it is hurting all of America."

These are examples of the kind of conversations we need to be having, from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. We need the candidates to talk about the crucial role teachers play in shaping not just our children's future, but the future of our nation -- and then we need them to act on it.

The next opportunity for this conversation is coming up on Wednesday, October 3, with the first presidential debate. What education issues facing the nation would you like the candidates to address at the debates?