President Barack Obama speaks inside the North High School on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. The President along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, came to Des Moines to speak about the current state of education and possible coming changes. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)
“Education is more than just knowledge… It means the world to me because I no longer feel lost,” said Russhaun Johnson, student body president at North High School in Des Moines, before introducing President Barack Obama.
After the young man spoke, Obama entered the auditorium to roaring and resounding applause.
“Soon you will be flooded with ads and calls folks who want this job,” Obama joked casually with the crowd, while standing tall with his sleeves rolled up.
But instead of campaigning, Obama’s visit was warranted by the sixth annual Back to School Bus Tour, with Des Moines being the second stop.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is stopping at 11 different schools starting in Kansas City Monday afternoon and will end in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Sept. 18.
This was Obama’s only scheduled stop for the tour. The President was last in the state in January where he introduced a broadband internet proposal.
“We came to North High School because you guys done some great things over past few years,” Obama said, referring to increased textbooks, test scores, and graduation rates. “You’re an example for whole country of what’s possible.”
In his opening remarks, he referred to a number of announcements made earlier in the week which include increased Pell Grant funding, a revamped federal student aid process, and a College Scorecard website which lists statistics and information about the country’s colleges.
“You have to fill out this form, we are making it easier for you to do,” Obama said in reference to the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. “Even if you didn’t go to college you need to nag your kids to makes sure this form gets filled out so you know the student aid you may be entitled to.”
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That notion was reiterated a number of times. Too often, Obama said, students miss out on benefits they may qualify for and amount a significant portion of debt as a result.
The FAFSA change would bring the application date to October instead of January and use parents’ tax information from two years prior, instead of one, as many parents had not filed their taxes by the date of application.
The College Scorecard, which was launched Saturday, outlines graduation rates, tuition costs, and a range of additional statistics to provide students and families with the information he said was necessary to making an informed decision.
“A lot of college ranking systems you see just reward schools for spending more money or rejecting more students,” Obama said.
Instead, the government will provide a massive compilation of education statistics on American colleges including the University of Iowa, which was rated above average in salary, graduation rates, and below average in annual cost of attendance.
He and Duncan, answered questions from students and parents about college readiness and affordability, representing this year’s “Ready for Success” theme.
In response to a question about what makes a great teacher, Duncan explained they see things in students they can’t see in themselves.
“Someone like Russhaun [Johnson], where your mom’s locked up, lot’s of folks could look at you and say well that’s where he’s going to go,” Duncan said. “Other teachers see him as a future student body president, a future teacher, a future leader of the community.”
Though the focus was on education, the 2016 presidential elections could not be ignored. Obama chose not to endorse a candidate, but did outline the stances on education he will look for in a candidate.
“A society’s values are reflected in where we put our time, our effort, our money,” he said. “It is not sufficient for us to say we care about education if we aren’t actually putting resources into education.”
He pushed voters to challenge candidates on increased accountability for lawmakers, more creativity in the classroom, empowering teachers, and providing sufficient classroom utilities.
After the event the cheers returned and hands were shook. Johnson, who appeared overcome with joy, told The Daily Iowan his biggest takeaway was Obama’s message to “go that extra mile,” keep your options open, and tackle your dreams.
“It was unreal,” Johnson said. “I was being inspired by [Obama] and I could feel him being inspired by me. “