09/11/2012 05:07 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Educating Kids: Americans Have Spoken, Now It's the Candidates' Turn

The budget. Debt. Taxes. Unemployment. Job creation. Health care. Afghanistan. Iran. Banking regulations. Drought.

Worthy issues, all. President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, have addressed each one during the 2012 campaign and revisited them in their convention acceptance speeches.

But there's a big subject they may want to pay more attention to if they want to capture the support of American voters -- the future of our children.

Candidates for every high office -- especially the presidency -- ignore them at their peril.

A new public opinion survey from The Center for the Next Generation shows a rising concern among voters that elected officials are not focusing enough on the education that adequately prepares our kids for jobs in the global marketplace.

While many polls find that jobs and the economy are the most important issues for elected officials to address, voters also understand the direct link between education and a thriving economy.

Our survey, which was designed in partnership with the bipartisan team of Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, accompanies a report the Center for the Next Generation and the Center for American Progress -- "The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce" -- and shows that voters believe the U.S. is lagging in efforts to win the future through education.

More than three quarters of voters polled said they want the next president to make education a top or high priority (78 percent). The response was nearly the same for governors (77 percent) and almost so for the next Congress (72 percent).

These findings are compelling enough. Factor in another series of questions, which asked voters whether they would be willing to pay more taxes if the money were dedicated to education, and it's clear Americans will not tolerate the U.S. falling behind anyone.

The results were especially strong when the question focused on dedicating the new revenue to K-through-12 education. In that case, voters said by a margin of more than two to one they were "very" willing or "somewhat" willing to pay more in taxes. That included 81 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans. By roughly the same margins, voters said they were "very" willing or "somewhat" willing to pay more in taxes and reduce spending in other areas if the funds were dedicated to K-12 education.

A majority of voters said they were also very or somewhat willing to pay more taxes for better pre-K (53 percent) programs and for college and higher education programs (52 percent).

To be fair, Americans often say they are willing to pay more -- whether it's for health care, education or better roads or bridges -- but that support often fades when a measure is brought to the ballot or a campaign is waged against legislation. Still, it is encouraging to see that Americans stand solidly behind investing in the next generation.

The backdrop is for all this concern, as articulated in The Center for the Next Generation/CAP report, are the educational advances underway in China and India, the world's most populous nations. Their governments have put in place specific, long-term plans to get more of their young people onto higher rungs of the economic ladder. They are achieving this through programs that expand access to education and improve its quality so that millions more of their next generation can benefit.

Therein lies the real challenge for America -- that "millions more" part.

In 2030, China will graduate 200 million people from college. That number is greater than the entire projected U.S. workforce. By 2020 India will produce four times as many college graduates annually as the U.S. Not all of these freshly-minted job-seekers will win the key positions of the future, but China and India will produce many more qualified candidates than the U.S. will if we don't change our approach and commitment to investing in education.

Parents generally know what's best for their children, and through our survey, they have spoken. We presume candidates for high office know what's best for the country, but they have neither spoken often enough nor offered specifics of how intend to upgrade educational opportunities for America's children. As the election approaches, President Obama and Governor Romney would be wise to recognize that voters consider education a core value, that our economic stability is linked firmly with ensuring that our children get a quality education.

Ignoring that risks not only their election but also the future of the country.