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The Daily Tar Heel

Poll Shows that Americans Link Defense, Education

When asked in a recent poll to rate reasons why the federal government should increase education spending, 85 percent of respondents said the country's need for stronger national security is a "good reason" to increase spending in the classroom.

A similar percentage of respondents also supported budget increases to help poor students secure equal opportunities in higher education and to provide quality teachers.

The survey, which was based on a representative sample of 1,000 adults, was conducted on behalf of a national coalition of education organizations called the Committee for Education Funding. The poll's margin of error is 3.1 percent.

Committee for Education Funding spokesman Robert Gilbert said the results of the poll stress the need for an educated work force, including everyone from airport screeners to CIA agents.

"It makes sense," he said. "No matter how sophisticated we get with the machines, there need to be people available."

National Education Association spokeswoman Becky Fleischauer said the survey's results show that Americans "understand that there is an extricable link between education and the economy and (between) education and national security." The National Education Association is a member association of the Committee for Education Funding.

A quality education produces not only a better-skilled population, she said, but also more high-paying jobs. "It just makes good sense to invest in education."

Richard Kohn, chairman of UNC's curriculum in peace, war, and defense, said education plays a crucial role in national security. "It always has," he said. "There's no question of that."

Education levels are reflected in a nation's economic health, technological advancements, social cohesion and understanding of its role in the world, Kohn said, all of which fall under the broad umbrella of national security.

"They all go together," he said. "It's not just military power."

Kohn said increased federal spending would have to cover a wide range of educational aspects to be most effective in strengthening national security.

"It includes fixing broken schools that are not providing the adequate three R's to large portions of the population," he said.

But Kohn added that areas such as military studies, the study of foreign cultures, study abroad programs and foreign language instruction also deserve more attention. "The American people essentially need more knowledge and interest in the rest of the world."

President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2002 includes $50.3 billion for discretionary spending in federal education programs, a 2.9 percent increase over the previous year.

Yet the proposed budget, which comes at a time when many states are struggling with hefty budget deficits, eliminates dozens of Department of Education programs and marks the smallest increase in federal education spending since 1996.

Gilbert said he hopes the results of the study will prompt a substantial increase in federal education spending in the budget for the coming year.

He said, "I think we'll definitely see above what the president is proposing."

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