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No issue better illuminates the political differences between Mia Love and Doug Owens than education and how to pay for it.
Owens, the Democrat in the 4th Congressional District race, believes the federal government should do more to fund Utah's colleges and K-12 schools, while keeping its hands off of curriculum. Love, the Republican, wants to sharply curtail any decision-making from Washington and believes federal funds should be transferred to the states with no strings attached.
"That is the single biggest canyon of difference between me and Mia Love," said Owens, who on Tuesday picked up the endorsement of the Utah Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
These two groups represent the bulk of Utah's public-school teachers and tend to support more Democratic candidates than Republicans. The UEA asked Love to participate in its endorsement process, but she declined. The two teachers groups held a joint news conference to announce their support of Owens
"We need to support leaders and elect leaders who support us as teachers in our quest to provide the best quality education possible," said Lisa Nentl-Bloom, UEA executive director. "Doug Owens supports teachers, students and public education, and we are delighted to stand with him today."
Owens, a first-time candidate who trails Love in the polls, has sought to label Love's education views as "extreme." He has focused on positions she staked out in her 2012 contest against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, which Love narrowly lost.
In that race, Love gave an interview to Restoration of America in which she said: "As the federal government goes, we should just eliminate the Department of Education." And she sent a mailer to Utah's Republican delegates that included a list of cuts that included "End K-12 education subsidies" and "End student aid and all other programs."
The Department of Education • Owens said eliminating the Education Department would result in the loss of a major funding source for special education throughout the nation and would cut needed money for schools in poorer areas.
Love recently backed away from her previous position. When The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board asked whether she wants to eliminate that department, Love said: "That, I think, is absolute baloney."
"I have some beefs with the Department of Education. I would like to eliminate the disparities between the Department of Education salaries and our local teachers' salaries. I think too much of our taxpayer dollars are spent administering programs and too few [are] spent in the classrooms."
Instead, she wants to take the funding and divvy it up among the states, letting local leaders decide how to use it.
Owens doesn't want less federal involvement in funding, he wants more money in all levels of education. He said he'd try to funnel more research dollars to Utah's colleges and proposes ways to boost public-education funding through volunteer programs, such as grants incentivizing an increase in science, education, technology and math education.
Love said Utah's teachers have had enough of federal programs and requirements, including No Child Left Behind, implemented under President George W. Bush, and Race to the Top, the education funding program of President Barack Obama.
"We have bound the hands of our teachers," she said. "We have some great talented teachers who have to live in this box that the federal government has put them in."
Student loans • Owens consistently has slammed Love for suggesting that the federal government should get out of the student-loan business and stop handing out Pell grants. Love argues that the easy access to federally backed money is partially responsible for the steady rise in tuition and student debt.
Owens agrees with that theory, but said the appropriate response is reform, not abandoning the entire system.
"You can't pull the rug out from under people with the big system built up around that method," he argued.
The federal government, Owens said, must do what it can to make it easier for all Americans to obtain a higher education, which he sees as the primary pathway to the middle class.
Common Core • New voluntary education standards known as Common Core have become a hot-button issue among conservatives, leading Gov. Gary Herbert to call for a legal review of the state's involvement in the multi-state program.
Love said she wants strong standards, but "the problem I have with Common Core is the tie to our federal dollars with the standards."
Owens says she has it wrong.
"That is a state issue. My understanding is that the state agreed to the program with other states," he said. "I don't favor federal mandates, but my understanding is that Common Core is not a federal mandate."
On this point, he is correct. No state will lose federal money by rejecting Common Core, though states that embrace the standards have a leg up on certain grants. Those grants are aimed at helping states write assessment tests to determine if students are reaching Common Core benchmarks.