Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Tuesday called for measures to strengthen education for poor children and make schools more economically diverse in order to fight poverty.
“We don’t just have racial segregation in our schools, we have huge economic segregation,” Edwards said while on the Pittsburgh leg of an eight-state tour to highlight poverty issues. “We have two public school systems in America ... one for those who live in wealthy suburban areas and then one for everybody else.”
Speaking to about 250 people in Pittsburgh’s impoverished Hill district, Edwards criticized last month’s Supreme Court decision rejecting school diversity plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. (“Use of Race Uncertain for Schools,” July 12, 2007.) He said the ruling turned “on its head” the landmark 1954 desegregation decision stemming from the Brown v. Board of Education case.
The former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate proposed giving bonuses to schools in affluent areas that enroll low-income students, creating magnet schools in inner cities and providing bonus pay for teachers willing to teach in inner cities. He also pitched the idea of “second-chance schools” for those who dropped out of high school.
“We shouldn’t give up on these children,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Edwards walked through the struggling Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Cleveland, the nation’s poorest big city, while pushing for a national law to crackdown on predatory lending. With sleeves rolled up and no tie, he waved to residents and called out, “How are you all doing?”
Predatory lenders who offer higher-priced loans to people with tarnished credit or low incomes “just move to another place where they are not regulated,” Edwards said. He also proposed a national fund to assist working people at risk of losing their homes.
Edwards chatted on a porch with homeowner Glenn Curry, 57, who said his home was close to foreclosure because of his wife’s medical bills, a cut in his hours as a school bus driver and a refinancing that he described as predatory.
The visit to Cleveland marked the unveiling of the campaign’s plan to promote economically diverse schools. One of its proposals would create 1 million housing vouchers over five years to help low-income families move to better neighborhoods.
In a radio interview, Edwards said he believed President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had engaged in “illegal behavior,” but he sidestepped a question about whether Bush should be impeached.
“There are multiple examples; just one is the fact that they have illegally spied on the American people in blatant disregard for the law,” he told AirAmerica radio when asked if there were grounds for impeachment.
He added that while he understood why activists might want to see Bush impeached, “I would rather us focus our attention on ending the war, universal health care and winning the next election.”
Edwards, whose travels began Sunday in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, said the tour had shown him that there were different aspects of poverty across the country.
“It has a lot of different faces,” he said, including poor cities, small towns and rural areas.
“It’s not a Cleveland problem or a New Orleans problem, it’s an American problem,” Edwards said.
Chris Taylor, regional press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said the poverty tour highlights Edwards’ hypocrisy.
“It’s difficult to relate to the homeless when you reside in a 28,000-square-foot mansion,” Taylor said. “This is a guy who has taken fees for speaking about the poor in the past.”
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