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Democratic candidates say college should be free, at least for two years at community colleges, like Scott Community College Urban campus, Davenport.

Support for public education measures runs rampant through the expansive Democratic presidential primary field.

The candidates have introduced a wide array of policy proposals designed to show their support for public schools, K-through-12 and beyond.

One consistent point of agreement among the candidates is the need to install a federal education secretary with public school experience. It is a virtually automatic and vociferous applause line each time a Democratic presidential candidate on the campaign trail pledges to appoint a secretary unlike current Sec. Betsy DeVos, a staunch supporter of school choice and voucher programs that public education advocates say take resources away from public schools.

Some candidates have proposed ways to boost teacher pay in K-through-12 schools and provide free access to pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds.

But some of the sharpest disagreements and most unique proposals relate to post-high school education.

Like the Medicare-for-all debate in health care, tuition-free college provides a dividing line among the Democratic candidates. But all proposals are aimed at a pair of flash points for college students and their families: the rising cost of tuition and ballooning student loan debt.

The cost of tuition has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and student loan debt, at $1.6 trillion, has exceeded car loan and credit card debt in the U.S.

Some, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are proposing tuition-free college for all and eliminating student loan debt.

Others have proposed more modest steps. Joe Biden, for example, has pitched tuition-free two-year community college, while Pete Buttigieg has proposed making tuition free just for students from low-income families.

The candidates also have proposed various ways to support technical training and apprenticeship programs as businesses search for workers at a time of low unemployment in Iowa and across the country.

 

Graham Ambrose is the Iowa politics reporter for the Quad-City Times. 

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