Obama woos crowd at CU-Boulder

BOULDER – President Obama stopped at a University Hill institution, The Sink restaurant, to schmooze with beer-drinking, burger-eating students before making an impassioned plea for college affordability.

This photo of CU student Madalyn Starkey with President Obama at The Sink went viral quickly after the president's historic visit to campus. Photo used with Starkey's permission.

The centerpiece of his historic visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder campus Tuesday — the first by a sitting U.S. president — was to urge Congress to prevent interest rates on a popular student loan program from doubling. The current 3.4 percent rate on Stafford loans will increase to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress takes action.

“We need to prevent the interest rates on federal students loans from shooting up and shaking you down,” Obama told a cheering crowd of about 10,000 in a very warm Coors Events Center.

He also appealed to Congress to extend the tuition tax credit he put into place when he took office; safeguard aid for low-income students; and extend work-study hours so students can work to pay off school.

Obama described a college education not as “a luxury” but an “economic imperative for every family in America.”

The social media-savvy president encouraged students to tweet about student loan debt by using the White House-approved hashtag, #DontDoubleMyRate.

While presidential candidates have made campaign stops on the state’s scenic flagship campus, Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit CU-Boulder, spokesman Bronson Hilliard said.

Students seemed willing to forgive his reference to “UC Boulder” vs. CU-Boulder.

Going for the college vote

Obama’s visit was part of a campus tour in three critical re-election states aimed at emphasizing the importance of college affordability and inspiring college-aged voters so critical to his previous success.

Coors Event Center fills before Obama's talk.

The president swooped into Colorado fresh off the heels of a visit to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also taped a segment with talk show host Jimmy Fallon. He planned to hit the University of Iowa Wednesday.

“We saved the prime-time event for Boulder,” Obama said.

Republican Party leaders are trying to take some wind out of Obama’s sails on the college debt front. Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has also endorsed capping the interest rates on student loan debt, although the debate is sure to center on how to pay for the $5.9 billion extension.

Stafford federal subsidized loans have been issued to more than 7 million low- and middle-income undergraduate students. The doubled interest rate would affect more than 166,000 Colorado students next year and amount to $130 million in increased payments — or close to $1,000 per person, Obama said.

The doubled interest rate would affect more than 166,000 Colorado students next year and amount to $130 million in increased payments — or close to $1,000 per person.

“That’s money out of your pocket,” the president said. “That’s a $1,000 tax hike for 7 million students across America.”

As he did in his UNC visit earlier in the day, he asked the crowd: “How many afford to pay an additional $1,000 right now?” There were rumbles but no hands shot up.

“So stopping this should be a no-brainer. This should be at the forefront of the agenda. It shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican issue.”

As he also did in North Carolina, Obama shared his own college debt story. He and his wife Michelle only paid off their college loans eight years ago. He said when he married Michelle the couple had “a mountain of debt.”

“Think about that … I’m the president of the United States,” he said, to hoots and hollers. “We’ve got to make college more affordable for you.”

Confronting a slow economic recovery

Obama talked about the economic recovery too, and how 4 million new jobs have been created over the past four years.

Students rise to applaud as Obama speaks.

“The economy is recovering but it’s not yet fully recovered from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression … But there are still too many Americans out there looking for a job, too many folks still lack the basic security that has always been at the heart of the American promise.”

Obama told CU students what a gift a degree truly is.

“The degree you earn from Colorado may be the best tool you’ve got to achieve the American promise.”

Shortly into his speech, a member of the audience yelled, “We believe in you!”

Obama called out, “I believe in you!”

Again, the audience erupted. Then, his voice boomed over the microphone:

“I don’t want this to be a country where a shrinking number of Americans are doing really, really well while a growing number are struggling to get by. That is not the future I want for you. I want this forever to be a country where everybody gets a fair shot.”

Obama said more needs to be done to make college affordable. He said tuition and fees at the nation’s universities and colleges have more than doubled since the CU students in the audience were born. An average American college student graduates with $25,000 in loans to repay.

“Not good,” Obama said.

“Americans now owe more in student loans than they do on their credit cards. Living with that kind of debt means pretty tough choices when you’re first starting out.”

Obama said the money spent to pay off loans could be better used to invest in business or in the economy.

He talked up other successes on the college affordability front since he’s been in office — getting the banks out of the federal student loan business, reducing the amount of loan debt graduates in lower-income jobs have to pay, and creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which, in part, educates students about college debt.

Still, he said, “We can’t keep subsidizing skyrocketing student tuition. We’re going to run out of money.”

States must also step up to the job

Obama said his administration has also challenged colleges and universities to show they’re doing everything they can to keep tuition affordable. He challenged states to pony up more for higher education.

Obama is first president to visit CU-Boulder.

CU sophomore Lauren Cross, 20, got in line at 8:30 a.m. Sunday to score a ticket to Obama’s talk.

She said she volunteers for the Obama campaign on weekends, registering voters. While she wasn’t among the students selected to be on the floor in front of the stage or on the risers behind Obama, she was exuberant nonetheless.

“I’m thrilled,” Cross said, as she sat with friends in the stands talking and snapping photos.

She also said she appreciates Obama paying attention to young Americans rather than foreign policy. She said she supports his stance on holding down interest rates on federal student loans, and trying to deal with a mess left by the “old fat bankers.”

“It’s cool he’s paying attention to those of us who are working our way up,” Cross said.

“It’s cool he’s paying attention to those of us who are working our way up.”
— CU student Lauren Cross

Hilliard said the university doled out about 6,500 free tickets to students who waited in line for hours to see Obama.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have a president of the United States visit our campus,” Hilliard said. “We have an active and engaged student body. More than 13,000 students engage in community service as part of their experience at CU-Boulder. That is evident in this turnout.”

Hilliard said the White House worked with the vice chancellor of student affairs’ office to hand-pick students representing a cross section of the university who would appear on the dais with him.

Enthusiastic crowd urges “four more years!”

Two lines snaked across campus hours prior to the president’s talk. Once the events center filled in, students began hooting and doing “the wave” and chanting “four more years!” or “U.S.A.!” on and off.

Ben Gelderloos, a 13-year-old student at Southern Hills Middle School, found himself on the floor in front of the podium – thanks to a family friend with a connection to Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

“I’m really excited,” Ben said, noting that he leaned Democratic because he comes from a family of Boulder Democrats. “I want to hear his views and what he’ll talk about.”

Debbie Pentz, a classroom aide at Mesa Elementary School in Boulder, was the one with the connection to Lt. Garcia.

“I’m very political,” Pentz said. “It important to engage kids in politics from a young age so hopefully, they stay involved as they get older.”

Hilliard said it was a complicated event to pull off, but there were no major problems related to security details, road closures or protesters near the Dalton Trumbo Fountain outside the University Memorial Center.

Compared to CU’s controversial crackdown on 4/20 pro-marijuana activists last week, Hilliard said, “This is the kind of large event we don’t mind seeing.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.