Education secretary: 'We are at a fork in the road'
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks on the state of education at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 2012.
October 2nd, 2012
05:32 PM ET

Education secretary: 'We are at a fork in the road'

by Lindy Royce-Bartlett, CNN

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) - Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that America's decision on Election Day will greatly impact the state of education.

"The choice facing our country today is pretty stark.  I believe we are at a fork in the road.  Some folks see education as an expense government can cut in tough economic times," Duncan explained during a luncheon at the National Press Club Tuesday afternoon.  "President Obama and I see education as an investment in our future - the best investment we can make.  Especially - especially in tough economic times."

To get feedback and "take the pulse of people after nearly four years in office," Duncan recently went on a cross-country bus tour themed 'Education Drives America.'  After taking part in over 100 events in twelve states, Duncan says it is clear that "the real work of improving schools doesn't happen in Washington but in cities and towns all across America-where parents, teachers and community leaders work together toward a common goal."

During Tuesday's Q&A session, Duncan was asked what the biggest difference between an Obama and Romney administration in education and he did not mince words.  "I think the difference is pretty clear and frankly it's stark and the country's going to have its say on it: That we fundamentally see education as an investment, and they fundamentally see education as an expense."

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Arne Duncan • Issues • Policy • Voices
soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. saba

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    October 4, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  2. Name*eilatan cajazz

    Education dollars are not the problem,how the money is put to use is the problem. My parents are both educators and everyday the come home and speak about the students taking up time in there classes because the do not want to learn or are so far behind even with every support in place they still could not acheive. We should implement a three tiered system in the USA also. Only the best and brightest receive the top education. Middle of the road children get to go to trade schools and the bottom tiered children give them job readiness skills. Another suggestion could be to only educate children whose families could pay,I think schools would really see a big improvement in testing then. And finally if you look at the demographics of the hundred worst public schools in America you will notice some very startling realities,no matter how much money you put towards the education of some children they will just not be successful in a school setting.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  3. Oakspar

    Education is primarely funded by the STATES, not the Federal government. When the Federal government gives states money (like through RTTT or NCLB), that money comes with strings to give the Feds power over the state schools systems. Furthermore, this does NOT increase the amount of money the schools get – rather the states lower the ammount they contribute to public schools at least dollar for dollar against the new Federal funds.

    When the Feds talk about putting money in schools, what they are really talking about is Federalizing the State based school systems. It is at the State level that schools get more or less money, so unless you hear it from a state Govenor, then disreguard it as funding and recognize it as a power grab.

    Yes, unions are abusive – but before you blame them, take a look at the non-union states (like the South East). The costs are lower and the issues are identical. So, unions cost much and provide little for the students. The differences you do find, however, are directly tied to teacher pay (more pay = better teachers in your area).

    Of course, if you did Federalize the schools, all teachers would make more, have better pensions, and there would be no real improvement in the classroom (equal pay means good teachers stay where they are). Right now, the best thing you could do for Public Education is to get the Federal government out of it entirely, and put the burden for cost and success back solely on the states – where the politicians are far more likely to be held accountable by the public.

    October 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  4. smokinsady

    look at the bar of topics on top of the CNN page- do you see education? NO, but you see Sports,entertainment etc. all the important ones.
    but no education. why is that? because education isn't worth listing? because nobody is interested in education? because the level of hyprocrisy is beyond believable?

    eduction is like a dumpster- you only look inside of it when you need to throw more garbage away. who wants to look inside a dumpster- a hungry homeless bum, a cop looking for a body, who?
    Who wants to look inside a school?

    October 3, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  5. chris

    In my 52 years all I've heard from the school system is a lack of money. My kids went through and I saw a lack of performance. I read articles like this and he majority of ways a teacher counters any negative feedback is saying you can't spell a word properly...oh and that they don't have enough money.

    With the aid of technology the education system is becoming more and more transparent and within it we see typical government problems...bloated over managed systems, pension plans in excess of the private sector, and administrative costs which soak up most of the dollars put into it long before it reached the classroom and teachers salaries.

    The union which in the past may have protected teachers has now become a political bias power -house which the general public and parents no longer trust. The same ol sales pitches remain, no money, poor schools, under appreciated teachers and that the general public does not care (especially if your a conservative) about kids. But today we realize the system is broken and feel it is easier as parents to find a private school, home school or any other form of education outside the one we have available.

    Stories like the St. Louis school system requiring 552 management positions to run the same number of kids as the archdiocese runs with 12 managers are getting out there. Stories that illustrate that among charitable giving in America only religion gets more money than education also tell us that the argument that the general public does not care about kids and education is simply a lie.

    It will continue to take time to fix, but it is clear to this parent that by saying one party sees the system as an expense and one an investment that the apparent skill of this education executive is creative writing,

    October 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  6. Scoot49

    What do we expect from the leader of the DOEd. His job is at stake – If Obama gets the boot so will he. His words are 100% politically motivated. That's why we are supposed to have laws preventing these bozos from using their position as a bully pulpit. He can pay for his trips, state he is speaking personally but that's pure hogwash. When the man or woman identified as the Leader of a major US Department speaks he or she ALWAYS speaks as an official. You cannot separate the two. Thats why for the same reason Military members are prohibitied from getting openly involved in politics while they serve.

    Finally – This clown is also concerned because there has been serious talk of disolving the DOEd. Since it's inception have or public school systems really improved? Not by the studies that compare our country with many other developed nations. We are sliding downhill and have been doing so for a long time. The only draw this country has in terms of education is for our Colleges and Universities – the places where the DOEd has he very least power to control. So much for Government helping our students.

    October 3, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • wjmccartan

      Your reaction to the article is to attack the secretary, this education thing is real and it has to be fixed,so that both dems and repub's can continue to debate and talk about the issues. America needs to change its education from a post war system to one that reflects what's happening in the 21st century and the needs of industry so America can continue to lead the world in all area's of education.The 12 and 13 year old students have to be given more options at the grade 8 level, highschools have to be reconfigured so that they can provide these young with a better and more focused education. We need to see programs in place that will start training them from the entry point of grade 9 right through grade 12, so these young adults can offer a lot more to perspective employers. Schools should be re-vamped to all students to take part in let's say an electrician or a carpenter or a mechanic, courses that will provide all the knowledge young people need in order to succeed. Right now students leave school with a dipolma, but none of the skills that employers need, and little knowledge to prepare them for the challenges that are ahead. Other countries around the world are already doing this, and their students have a realistic chance of finding good employment right out the gate.

      We need America to continue to be the leader in the free world so that its ideals remain a light for the people that are oppressed can see that they don't have to live within closed minded and shadowed societies that don't respect the rights of free men and women, justice equally for all and free speech. Corner stones of American society.

      Lucid One

      October 3, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • DOCFEE


      October 3, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  7. John

    Achoo! Administrative. Typo – sorry!

    October 3, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  8. John

    Carlosl has a good point. Although student populations after middle school probably tend to mix children of different IQ's in classsrooms together more than those of younger public school children, it is an administartive problem for the school Principal, I always thought, that determined classroom placement for special ed and severely disabled children, as Carlosl is describing. A 55 IQ student in high school Physics probably would take up more time than a teacher with several other students with over 100 IQ's (normal for that age) studying that subject.

    The main point I'm trying to make is that a 55 IQ student would probably need extended motivation techniques and the introductions of conceptual Physics interest to study Physics as an important graduation requirement.

    And more than likely, a student with a higher IQ would probably concentrate upon the subject and work out the basic equation set with peers of similar interest or assigned study partners. Unless a 55 IQ student exhibited a strong personal interest, I opine that a physics teacher could use science experiments involving safety, motion and gravity for the benefit of that student and to promote interest in Physics and future learning possibilities for that student, as well.

    October 3, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  9. CarlosI

    The downfall of efucation began some years back with a lawsuit by a parent who refuse to believe that their special ed kid didn't belong in the regularclass room. As a result, they started loading up the regular teacher with low performing special ed kids. Granted, some do belong there but not all. I was given two students with IQs of 55 in my high school Physics class. Ever try teaching Physics to IQs of 55 while still challenging the regular students to excel and only have 50 minutes a day to do it? Teachers who specialize in special ed were being laid off because this brcame the economic model. These kids need one on one attention. It takes a lot of time and these kids are being shorted whatever education we can give them. That goes for kids at both ends of the spectrum.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Scoot49

      As much as it repulses us in so many ways, countries like Germany long ago worked out a track system. Students identified as desiring and capable of Higher studies at unversities were put in one track. Those deemed better suited for technical degrees such as skilled craftmen/trademen were placed in another track. Special ed students need classes that challenge them with realistic expectations. Some may be able to rise out of those classes but the majority of them as well as the 'normal' students will all fare better in the long run. We have become a country that wants to lower the playing field, not level the playing field and as a result all of our students are suffering. (Not to mention the professional educators who have to cope with the 'mix'.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  10. Joseph

    I don't understand how the Secretary of Education has time to go on a 100 visit PR tour. My child needs help in school, but she can't get it because her teacher cannot tell me what she needs. Not because she doesn't know, but because the lawyers have told the teachers that they can't say anything. I will spend countless hours and dollars, insurance, personal, and school, trying to figure out what her teacher already knows. My husband and I are educated and make a good living, yet our child is failing, i can't imagine how the uneducated get anywhere that is productive. My daughter is failing not because she has a bad teacher, but because of government regulations that make it impossible to educate the kids who struggle, and put out free tutoring and testing in place of real long term solutions.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Scoot49

      He has the time because he has others to 'think' for him and 'guide' his decisions. This is not an unusual situation. Even Presidents permit minions to do most of the real work for them and provide them with pre-digested information (Yep – puke) on which the 'leader' feeds to do his job.

      In reality this man should be concentrating on his job not being a speaking puppet for his boss.

      October 3, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  11. Joseph

    I find it perplexing that Secretary of Education has time to do 100 speaking engagements. Why is that not left to a PR associate? My husband and I have masters degrees. Our child is getting tutoring in first grade under no child left behind because she is failing. The teacher is not allowed to tell me why she thinks she is failing. That is stupid and I blame lawyers. After I get through 8 or 10 layers of red tape, with insurance and the school, I will find out what her teacher already knows. Making sure children are educated isn't just for the poor or the ignorant, though how they navigate the system, which takes lots of time and money, I don't know. It is for all kids who need and want an education.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Keller

      My wife is a teacher, if her students are failing she tells the parents why. Never heard of anything like you are describing might be a school district policy. Truth be told, the biggest complaint my wife has is that parents do not care enough. They see school as day care for their children, do nothing when their child is failing and then blame the teacher at the end of the year.

      October 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • jo

      have youpushed for an iep/ard meeting (sometimes known as a 504 plan)? the schools are by law under these supposed to do extensive testing & provide the right help. We had to do this w/my youngest who has high functioning autism. some states do not require the schools to implement a 504 plan until at least half way thru 1st grade but if you think it's needed you ought to push for it

      October 3, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  12. randy

    This guy ran the chicago public school system prior to being picked up to play basketball with obama, not a country in the world would want to imitate what goes on in chicago schools,

    October 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Hmmm

      The charter schools are great because they selectively admit kids. The public is (sadly) the "leftovers." Then they blame the union when they siphon the top kids away and want the teachers "accountable" for the dropping test scores. Hmmm...let's put all the healthy people on one insurance plan and unhealthy on the other. Then blame the doctors and insurance companies for having unhealthy people, cut their funding so theyre overwhelmed, etc. Propaganda. 1/2 truths. See through it.

      October 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  13. Hmmm

    And why cant Americans understand how statistics work? If we moved every kid "up" in a standarized test theyd renormalize the distribution because natural phenomenom are to adhere to a bell curve with certain standard devitions. No matter how hard I try Ill never be a running back in the NFL. So testing me to be one would be pointless and show that Americas PE teachers are awful. God gave me my mom's bone structure. Is it the PE teacher's fault Im not 6'2" and 245 pounds? I could become a "better" athlete, but again, never become "proficient" unless proficient means able to tell the difference between a football and baseball.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  14. Hmmm

    "We are dumb & schools are failing" is propaganda for (liberals) throw money at it and make people who vote for us rich or (conservative) privatize it into charter schools and make people who vote for us rich. Maybe if we did what other countries do and at 12 years old skim the top performers into college prep and only compare them with the rest of the world politicians would quit using education as a political tool that doesnt do anyone any good. Of course then our beloved sports would take a backseat to academics and the USA wouldnt win as many gold medals. And maybe some of you would be educated enough to see farther than your noses and realize the problem the US has with education is that we compare a random sample against the top for some other countries.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Anton

      Very true in limited comparison

      But the idea of throwing away people is a false premise and allowing people to turn the corner even in their 20's is part of what makes America great.

      October 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
      • Hmmm

        I agree with you. Germany tracks kids at the age of 12. So do many other countries. The "America isnt smart" argument works because people are ignorant enough to not question how the data is gathered. We just "trust" the propaganda generators as long as our favorite sitcom is on to keep us from caring or thinking.

        October 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  15. Hmmm

    @Ask me NCLB each country defines what "literate" means. Secondly, I cant see many 3rd world countries EVERY kid. They dont have the $$$ or staff. So we get people like you making ignorant comments because you have no idea what a standardized test is, what a normal distribution or standard deviation is because you (gainfully employed I presume) couldnt pass the same test teenagers are failing. Yet you probably consider yourself intelligent.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  16. J cool

    I want to keep my job as secretary so pleeeeeeease vote for Obama!!!!!!!!!!

    October 2, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  17. Askmehow

    Some countries have no running water. no air conditioner, no teachers lounge or salary, no computers, no public transportation, a U.S. embargo etc. Still they manage to have a higher Literacy level than U.S.
    Perhaps is time to take out commodities out of school and grade the performance. Education gets worse each year as we continue to pour more resources.
    How many days, how many men and much money does it take?

    October 2, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Anton

      Yeah really. What country is that ??? Your make believe facts are the arguement against education. What district were you taught in. I want to write a complaint.

      October 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Silence

      It takes getting the business model out of education. For the past 10+ years, the billionaire boys' club has been calling the the shots. Who are these billionaires and what do they want with education? Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton of Walmart to name a few. They have sunk millions of dollars into the push to privatize public education. The plan is to have standards that public schools can't meet, ratchet up the standards, go to the media and bombard Americans with how bad the schools are and say schools are not doing the jobs, close them and open private charters that the American tax payer must pay for, with no public oversight; no elected school board will decide policy. There will be no elected board unhappy parents can go to for redress. There is money to be made in leaching off public education. You only have to look at Harmony Charter schools. They are owned and operated by a Turkish Imam who uses H1b work visas to bring in his teachers, claiming he can't find qualified English teachers here in the US. Of course his English teachers can barely speak English, though. Buy none the less, American tax payers must pay for this school and all its employees,. This guy brings in teachers from Turkey and on paper it looks like they are being paid comparable wages to public school teachers, but once here, they must give back upwards of 40% to the Imam for the right to work at one of hist schools. Not much in the privatized world of education is regulated. And 2/3 of these schools do worse in educating children and the other third, after 5 years do barely as well as public schools. But you don't hear that in the news, do you? You hear about research on the effectiveness of these schools, but only from people who are paid by people with vested interests.
      Problem, public schools have problems because of their clientele. Many take in poor, handicapped, non English speaking children. The class sizes are large, discipline is bad because of due process, which by the way does not exist in Charter schools. Parents and students must sign a discipline contract that, if a public school required, they would wind up in court. Charter, not so. They can and do require this contract and many badly behaved students are pushed out, leaving the best students. The badly behaved ones return to the public schools. So, it is not surprising that these school look like they are doing a better job. Allow all the advantages these charter have and public schools will succeed.

      October 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
      • Hmmm

        Your post is almost 100% true IMO. Im currently reading a "miracle cure" book for teachers that has listed certain NYC school schools as "successes" due to using "research based teaching practices." So I looked the school up.
        16% on standardized tests get in. Shocker theyd be eager to learn and raise a school's scores. Students put in a lottery and chosen based on interviews, GPA, and attendance records. Hmmm...another shocker theyd perform well. If people were smart theyd question how the propaganda was gathered. But they arent so they spend their energy jumping on the bandwagon of their political parties side. Sheep. Baaaaaaah!

        October 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • SJS

      Askmehow, I'm asking you where you read this fact. Source please

      October 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  18. larry5

    This guy Duncan needs a real job, not a made up one. He's got to stop calling teachers stupid that don't agree with him and Obama. Someone has to cut back his expense account. He's starting to act like Obama. When he travels he can stay at something less that a 5 star resort and still survive. I understand that he's a liberal and better than ordinary citizens but after all this bad behavior it's time to send him back into the private sector where he'll have to work for a living. Scary thought.

    October 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  19. Fubarobama

    Ann Duncan has failed the American Education system. She is no more than a shyster with regard to Moving our kids forward.. We have fallen 6 spots on the international level. Yet she talks a mean game. All talk and no action.

    October 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • edurich

      get a clue. First, you have no idea who Arne Duncan is, because most simply, it's a he. Second, he has led some of the most progressive (reform-minded) changes to the education system in decades. He is bringing better accountability to schools and encouraging tough decisions to be made that will benefit children. Try commenting when you have a bit more information.

      October 2, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
      • Silence

        You are a fool! He has led the privatizing and sale of public education. Charters are not regulated. Anyone can open one. There is no requirements for an educated teaching force. Charters skim off the best students from the inner cities, leaving the poorest students who often don't speak English, are handicapped, or homeless. Charters are given millions of dollars of private money as well. They really should be doing better given their advantages.
        As for America spending more and getting less, it is cultural. There are very few behavior problems in Finnish schools and they are at the top. They pay their teachers better, their class sizes are smaller, the teachers spend less student contact time and have more time to prepare for the lessons. The teachers still work less hours there and the students spend less time in school. So what is the secret? Teachers are better respected. Students are better behaved. More money goes directly into the classroom and is not skimmed off the top before it arrives at the schools.
        You want to pay less for education? Get discipline back, lower class size, get the business model out of education, make sure that the money you do allocate gets to the classroom and students. It might surprise you, but most public schools in America have roofs that leak and there is a huge amount of black mold growing in these classrooms. Conditions are worse since Arne Duncan. So this is his legacy; the privatizing of the public school system is his accomplishment.

        October 2, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
      • Speak up

        Arne Duncan, the man, is an absolute failure. He is a shill for the corporations and his concern is making a name for himself with the billioninaire boys' club. He is incompetent and he ran Chicago into the ground. Go back to playing basketball with your friend. You are a disgrace to our public schools.

        October 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Anton

      Education is far better off than generally is reported. But Duncan right, the republicans have a view from the dark ages.
      Asked world leaders if they would trade our system for theirs k through grad school and ALL of them would.

      This anti education bias from the right is just a by product of a shift in focus on math and English. Their world view is shaped by knowing nothing about science , social sciences, or government.

      October 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  20. Incredulus

    I am tired of "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top." The idea that all students will succeed is a fallacy. There will always be some who fail. (There is no possibility that 99% of students will be at grade level, unless grade level means no learning. Another good job of fooling the numerically illiterate.)

    The idea of yearly high stakes testing pushes teachers to teach for the test. So much for the best students. They often have to teach the other students since many educators believe that teaching is "the way to learn." The best students caught in this trap will seldom reach their full potential.

    Both sides in this seem to miss basic points. Education is not cheap. Students learn at different speeds. Students have different potentials. Common standards tent to become normal, not minimum, expectations. The list goes on and on.

    Do you trust any political party to invest wisely in education? Are you willing to pay the money required to educate children adequately? Are you willing to question the educational hype being put out by political parties and other organizations?

    Question, question and question again. If you are not too discouraged with our politicians and other leaders, maybe you can find someone for whom to vote.

    October 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Silence

      You've got it. Education costs and that money needs to get to the classrooms.

      October 2, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  21. moxyl

    Do these guys ever have a progressive original thought?
    Spend spend spend - the same tired,conservative litany that has been around thousands of years

    October 2, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  22. Gena

    Many of the countries with the view of investing in education also make certain that the education only is provided to those who can benefit from it. There is no diversity. A child's fate is sealed by the end of middle school. Those with college potential continue their education. Those who do not have that potential are sent to trade schools. No one asks what the child wants to do. There are no second chances such as community colleges or continuing education classes. If the government pays; the government chooses.

    October 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  23. rosethornne

    Do we want a President who values education and personal responsibility, or do we want a crack-headed lunatic arrogant richie rich who wants to keep as many people ignorant as possible? "Obama wants everyone to go to college. What a snob" sneered romney's bosum-buddy 'severe conservative' nut job santorum.

    OK, so I telegraphed my answer just a weensy tad, but my point still stands: I want Obama, the candidate who has everyone's interest in mind, not romney, who has only the upper upperest in mind.

    October 2, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • SJS

      He did say "Take a chance on education. Get a loan from your parents if you have to." Or whatever rich family member you have hanging around your family tree. Right?

      October 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Dick Smegma

      Back on your megs, Kool Aid

      October 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
      • Speak up

        Learn how to spell before you give out advice to others.

        October 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  24. kpete

    Education should not be only for those who can afford it, by this I mean any type of public schooling or college and beyond. It's getting to the point where if you or your family cannot afford to go to college, you simply don't go and get to spend your life making minimum wage or slightly more because no one takes a second look at someone who has less than a Bachelors degree. Soon (and it's happening already) everyone will need a Masters or better to get anywhere in this country. It's truly sad that this is even a debate.

    October 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Mike

      I don't want to pay for you to go to college. Sorry. You pay for it yourself.

      October 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
      • Anton

        And I don't want to pay for all the services you use paid by others: roads, airports , traffic signals, water, farm subsidies to keep your food cheap, testers to keep your Viagra consistent, etc.

        October 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Richard Hertz shyte for everybody...always and forever

      October 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • tanguo111

      Although I am no familiar with the system of U.S education, I can't accept the view that pursuit for knowledge aims to acquire credentials or degrees .I think that to study aims to enrich the abilities and get higher position in self -development course to creat fortunes for others to make himself or herself to enjoy the sense of success.Meantime,
      it is reasable that you can earn enough profits to satisfy you and your families.we are born bare, andwhen meet the God ,bare ,the same as .

      October 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  25. driranek

    Look around the world – the places with the most rapid improvements in their standard of living, like S. Korea, Singapore, and Finland, all treat education as an investment and go to extreme lengths to insure theirs is absolutely top-notch. We don't and are rapidly becoming second-rate because of it. Vote accordingly.

    October 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • dry well

      Education is everything, however the person recieving it needs to be responsible for the results. At the same time we continue to spend more money than other contries on education, all we hear from the left is spend more. When will we realize that spending a "little" more is rarely ever the anwser to many of the issues we face? It is time for school choice.

      October 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm |