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Each week leading up to the 2012 Election, HechingerEd will feature a post rounding up the latest on what the candidates are saying and doing about education – and what others think of their plans.

President Obama today bypassed a stalled Congress to make a significant change in immigration policy, announcing he would stop the deportation of certain young undocumented immigrants by executive order. As New York Magazine put it: “Obama basically just passed the DREAM Act himself.”

The DREAM Act would create an opportunity for permanent residency for illegal aliens who meet certain requirements:  They must have moved to the the United States before they turned 16 and be younger than 30, have been here for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history and pose no national security threat, and have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED or been accepted into a post-secondary institution. The bill has been introduced in Congress each year since 2001.

Unlike the DREAM Act proposal, the president’s order would not grant legal status. Instead, immigrants who meet the eligibility requirements will be “immune from deportation.” The DREAM Act would allow students to apply for federal student loans, a provision that has won the bill many supporters among educators. But under Obama’s order, it seems likely that these students would still be on their own to pay for college.

Obama started off his week with a focus on education in his weekly address, in which he argued that the federal government should act to prevent more teacher layoffs.  “When states struggle, it’s up to Congress to step in and help out,” Obama said. “In 2009 and in 2010, we provided aid to states to help keeps hundreds of thousands of teachers in the classroom. But we need to do more.”

The presumed Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, dove into education policy in late May, releasing a white paper about his education policies and delivering a speech covering much of the same ground. The hallmark of Romney’s plan is a proposed voucher-like system linking $25 billion in federal funds to low-income and special education students so they would be able to attend any school – traditional public, private or charter – in any zip code.

Voucher advocates often say low-performing schools, faced with competition from private schools, will force improvements in order to avoid losing students. But although some research has found benefits for the students who receive vouchers, skeptics have pointed out that there is little research to demonstrate that vouchers help public schools get better.

As the New York Times reported, even Margaret Spellings, former education secretary under George W. Bush and previously an informal adviser to Romney, has doubts about the plan. Spellings stopped advising Romney after he “rejected strong federal accountability measures” in his education proposal, according to the Times.

“I have long supported and defended and believed in a muscular federal role on school accountability,” Spellings told the Times. “Vouchers and choice as the drivers of accountability – obviously that’s untried and untested.”

Andy Rotherham, a columnist for Time, argues that Romney’s plan is hardly as revolutionary as the candidate has portrayed it. Rotherham described it as “puny,” adding: “This latest round of voucher-pseudonym talk probably won’t amount to much. That’s because school choice is a state-by-state game, not a federal one.”

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Sarah Butrymowicz oversees and contributes to The Hechinger Report’s investigative and data work covering all levels of education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education. She has worked at...

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