The president is in a position to shift the course of education for millions of youth.

With every election, there are issues of enduring importance. Education is one of those perennial issues, and this election is no different. Every good politician knows to at least pay lip service to education. President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry have differing visions of how to handle education from preschool to college graduation.

Granted, the government cannot and should not take on the role of parent, but it is the obligation of the United States to facilitate the education of its citizens. This includes helping parents become more involved with the lives of their children during their children’s education.

Early Head Start and Head Start are such programs that encourage parental participation. Both programs aim to help pregnant women, their families and children to age 5 get ready to enter the educational system.

Bush’s stance on Head Start and Early Head Start is troubling. Because Bush’s budget freezes enrollment in Head Start programs, those who are not currently enrolled will not have the chance to be. Forty percent of Head Start eligible children and 97 percent of Early Head Start children will lose out.

In contrast to Bush, Kerry not only opposes freezing Head Start enrollment but also proposes a “School’s Open ‘Til Six” initiative that would offer after-school opportunities and parental involvement chances by helping schools stay open until 6 p.m. and provide after-school activities.

Sadly, the cornerstone of Bush’s education policy, No Child Left Behind, is proving to be a monumental failure. No Child Left Behind sets standards for schools to be met through testing. It takes away funding from schools that do not meet those standards.

Besides being a huge intrusion upon local school control, No Child Left Behind punishes schools that might already be struggling.

The idea is simple. Schools do not want to lose their funding, so they will improve, but the fatal flaw is that many schools are already seriously underfunded and further cuts in funding only send the schools into further deterioration. No Child Left Behind has also been underfunded by $27 billion. Schools have been forced to scrap successful curriculums. Teachers have been forced to teach to the tests.

Rather than punishing schools, Kerry supports a National Education Trust Fund to reward high-achieving schools and schools that have improved.

Both candidates have addressed the issue of higher education. Bush’s recent decision to raise Pell Grant limits was a welcome one. Too bad Bush waited so long to make this change, suspiciously doing it in an election year. After promising in his 2000 presidential campaign to raise the limits, Bush froze levels for most of his presidency, even as tuition costs skyrocketed.

Still, both candidates currently support raising loan limits to some extent. However, Bush also supports making students pay higher interest rates on those loans.

Kerry’s proposals for higher education are much more student-friendly. He proposes a $4,000 tax credit geared toward alleviating tuition costs and a program that would pay for college education in return for public service.

Education is such a grand issue that it would be unfair to place the blame entirely on the president. The problems with education in the United States run deep from the national level to the individual. If the United States is to truly face the problems of its educational system, a cultural shift must occur.

Materialism and money should not be placed above education. It is a strike against the United States for each parent who buys his or her child a videogame rather than a book. It is a strike against the United States for each student who skips school to go to a job. It is a strike against the United States for each person who wants to go to college but cannot because of cost.

Education is an issue larger than the presidency; however, the president of the United States is in a position to shift the course of education for millions of Americans. Bush has had a chance to shift the course and has failed. Kerry’s vision for education is much more comprehensive and meaningful than Bush’s; however, it costs more.

Kerry’s solution to this is simple and sensible: He would rescind Bush’s tax cuts. Kerry is willing to invest in education.

Bush has had four years to act on education. Sadly, his actions appear to be nothing more than lip service, unfunded mandates and funding upper-class tax cuts on the backs of college kids.