CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Democrat John Edwards on Sunday said there are two public school systems in America — one that's failing low-income students and the other catering to wealthier kids.
"Making sure that our schools work, and that they are not segregated based on race or economics, is a huge moral responsibility for the president of the United States," Edwards told a crowd of hundreds at the University of Northern Iowa during a presidential forum on education.
Edwards said the Bush administration has been "extraordinarily shortsighted" when it comes to making students globally competitive, slashing aid to students and funding to schools.
"If you just sort of watch the underbelly of the way the administration manages the federal budget, they are just constantly cutting away from those things," he said.
During the event, Edwards outlined the education plan he released earlier this year. His proposals include:
—Providing universal pre-kindergarten education for all 4-year-olds, starting with low-income children.
—Increasing pay for teachers, especially those in low-income areas, and offering bonuses to teachers who get national certification for excellence or who serve as mentors. He has proposed a national teacher's school to train 1,000 top college students each year to work in the classroom.
—Overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act, including finding better ways to identify and improve struggling schools.
—Offering more educational opportunities beyond high school through a "College for Everyone" initiative. He says it would pay for public-college tuition for one year for students who are willing to work through school and stay out of trouble.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, is expected to speak at the Iowa education forum later this week.
Earlier Sunday, during an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Edwards was asked whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to obtain driver's licenses. Edwards has accused rival Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton of giving two different answers to the question.
On Sunday, Edwards said the decision should be left up to the states to decide, not the president. When host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that in 2004, Edwards was for illegal immigrants obtaining driver's licenses, the former North Carolina senator responded that he was concerned at the time about auto safety.
"But that fits in the bigger context of, what are we going to do about the big issue about immigration, legal immigration, immigration reform," Edwards added. "And I think what makes sense and what fits with the rule of law in the United States of America is to allow them to get driver's licenses once they get on a path to earning citizenship."