Sen. Barack Obama gave a rousing speech on Saturday to an audience of more than 200 at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles -- promising a series of education reforms if he is elected president.
Topics at the town hall-style gathering included the DREAM Act, more funding for K-12 teacher salaries, universal health care, comprehensive immigration reform and making higher education more affordable.
At one point, he not-so-jokingly said universities like the University of California at Los Angeles should sacrifice "country club" style campuses, including well-furnished dorms, high-end athletic facilities and fancy cafeteria food, to allow more funding for education.
"UCLA is a great school, but I'll tell you what," he said. "There are ways we have to control the cost and go for the education rather than the lifestyle."
He also mentioned increasing funding for university outreach programs, an issue that has been particularly contentious at the University of California because the UC Board of Regents considered significantly cutting this funding when they approved this year's budget over the summer.
The UC has been receiving less and less state support in recent years, leading to vastly increased fees over the past decade. Obama recognized this issue and said state legislatures need to reassess their priorities to make sure higher education is properly funded to keep fees low.
Obama also called for a system of universal health care, funded by rolling back tax breaks on those who make over $250,000 annually, saying every American should be entitled to care as good as he gets as a member of Congress.
Karen Bass, the California State Assembly majority leader, called the issues of health care and education important for the minority and working-class community primarily represented in East Los Angeles and present at the event.
"Everyone deserves health care, everyone deserves education -- I can't think of a more important social justice issue," she said.
Cora Cervantes, a third-year English student at UCLA, was one of the many people invited to attend the event and was able to ask Obama about the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act, recently vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, is a name applied to similar legislation being introduced in several states and at the federal level that would allow undocumented immigrants who attend high school in the United States to attend college here too.
Cervantes said that, with his service record, his positive stance on the DREAM Act, and his presence at Garfield High, Obama has a great opportunity to reach out to the Latino community, where he has little name recognition.
"He has a strong record, and he understands that the Latino agenda is the American agenda," she said.
Obama also stressed the need to address inner-city schools, saying we know how to solve these issues but lack leadership.
He said there needs to be more federal support to bolster teacher salaries and fund building projects and stressed parent and community involvement in education.
"We tend to view students in inner-city schools as someone else's children and not our own," he said. "We need to treat these kids like our kids."
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© 2007 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE