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Arne Duncan speaks at Iowa Education Summit, warns against political influence

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had strong words for Iowans on the state of education, but a stronger word of warning to the Legislature: keep politics out of education.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/2010/03/duncan-300x247.jpg U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Education).

“I keep saying that, frankly, politics have hurt education,” Duncan said in his keynote during the first day of the Iowa Education Summit in downtown Des Moines. “Education has to be bi-partisan.”

Education was a major battle in the past legislative session, from preschool to higher education cuts.

Universal preschool was a considerable point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. House Republicans and Gov. Terry Branstad wanted universal preschool eradicated, with Branstad proposing an income-based voucher system. Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) bitterly pushed back.

Branstad retreated late in session; while universal preschool remains in Iowa, the funding was slightly reduced at the behest of House Republicans. Branstad has said the voucher proposal may be brought up in subsequent sessions.

Duncan Monday pleaded for political beliefs and ideology to be put aside during those sessions.

“Do the right thing by children. Put aside politics and put aside ideology,” he said, while emphasizing quality preschool education is a must for Iowa’s educational reform. “If Iowa doesn’t do that, then I worry tremendously for the young people of this state.”

The Iowa Education Summit — which is expected to feature remarks from U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — will go into tomorrow. The summit will feature discussion panels and speakers. The summit itself is sold out, but the public may view the live-stream feed online.

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