Obama tours Colorado school, touts education plans | AspenTimes.com

Obama tours Colorado school, touts education plans

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Eighth-grader John Karger gives Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a tour of Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts in Thornton, Colo., Wednesday, May 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

THORNTON, Colo. ” Democrat Barack Obama toured a suburban Denver school on Wednesday and vowed to fix the “broken promises” of the No Child Left Behind law if elected president.

Campaigning in Colorado one day after Republican John McCain, Obama said he supports standards and testing but said U.S. schools haven’t been given the resources they need. He said the nation needs a new era of education reform.

“This starts by fixing the broken promises of No Child Left Behind,” he told a packed auditorium after his tour of the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts.

Obama told the crowd of more than 300 that he supports the goals of the federal education law: educating all children, closing achievement gaps between white and minority students, testing skills and holding educators accountable.

But funding and resources were left behind, Obama said. He drew loud applause when he said schools prepare all year for “a single, high-stakes test” and that teachers don’t have enough resources.

He proposed revamping standardized tests so preparing for them doesn’t consume so much time, and encouraging professionals to teach in struggling schools that have trouble attracting instructors.

He said the U.S. education system is falling behind other nations’, especially in math and science.

“We now have one of the highest school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world,” Obama said.

“It’s worth crying about,” he quickly added in response to a baby fussing in the audience.

Obama said he would offer a $4,000 tax credit to cover two-thirds of the tuition at a typical public college and make community college free. In return, students would be asked to teach, volunteer or join the Peace Corps.

McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds criticized Obama, saying the Democrat has never led education reform efforts “despite his lofty rhetoric.”

It was the first time Marsha Mander of Thornton heard Obama speak in person, and said she was impressed by his ease with the audience and the breadth of the issues he covered. She said she supports Obama even though she doesn’t object to his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I think we’re ready for a whole new change,” Mander said.

Obama was introduced by former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat who later served as superintendent of Los Angeles public schools and has lobbied to make education a bigger issue in the election.

“This is a man who has the ability to look at a problem in a new way, and we need this in this country,” said Romer, a superdelegate who backs Obama.

The senator picked up the support Wednesday of Colorado superdelegate Pat Waak, the state party chairwoman.

She noted he won the state’s Feb. 5 caucuses and more recently performed strongly at state, county and congressional district conventions. She says she believes he’ll defeat McCain in the general election.

Obama has 1,979 delegates ” 47 shy of the 2,026 necessary to clinch the nomination. Clinton has 1,779 delegates.

Waak and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., another superdelegate who backs Obama, both said Obama will relate to Western voters, and they played down the fact that McCain is from Arizona.

Perlmutter questioned how popular McCain is in the West because of his lopsided loss to Mitt Romney in Colorado’s GOP caucuses in February. He said Obama is a quick study and is interested in Western issues.

Perlmutter and Waak both said Colorado will likely be a battleground in the presidential election as the two parties vie for what is considered a swing state. Waak said Obama plans to visit often.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Colorado and Bush carried the state in the 2004 general election. But wins by Democrats Sen. Ken Salazar in 2004 and Gov. Bill Ritter in 2006 and the Democratic takeover of the Legislature in 2004 have boosted Democrats’ hopes.

Colorado is often referred to as a purple state, a combination of Democratic blue and Republican red.