Scott Howell, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, spoke at the University of Utah about his education plans if elected. It was fitting for a press conference that was reminiscent of a college-student’s class presentation: long on ramble and short on specific points.
At a press conference touting his education plans, Howell challenged a few of Hatch’s votes, spoke obliquely of the power of technology in education and artfully dodged explicitly saying that he wanted more increased federal education spending, rather saying that he would fight “for Utah’s fair share.”
In distinguishing himself from Hatch, Howell spoke of the need for “collaboration” in D.C,. and argued he would not vote to eliminate the $170 billion federal Pell Grant program for college students or double the Stafford student loan rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, as Hatch previously voted for.
As for specific plans, Howell spoke of the need for Utah to embrace securing federal “Race to the Top” funding that would be used to help further the education goals of the private-business-driven initiative Prosperity 2020. The decision of whether to accept the federal money would, however, be left up to the state Legislature and not be something he could greatly influence if elected as a U.S. senator.
During his prepared remarks, Howell also at different points pulled out a hot orange-cased smartphone and explained the need for technology in classrooms.
“We cannot afford to not give our children the opportunities to learn and grow and compete in a global economy. This technology is what our kids need in the classroom today,” Howell said, brandishing the phone.
Howell lauded the Utah iSchool program that uses iPads to enhance teaching in classrooms but did little to elaborate on the idea other than to talk about the need for more technology in classrooms. Howell, who has decades of private-sector experience working for IBM and helped get kindergarten funding in the state during his time as a state senator at the Utah Legislature, argued that education is a policy passion of his.
If elected, he says, the most important thing he could do for improving education in Utah would be using his passion to cut through D.C.’s partisan gridlock.
“When I get back there, I’ll reach across the aisle. More importantly, I want to sit across from President Obama or President Romney and say, ‘This is what we need and this is what’s going on in our communities,” Howell said. “There are just too many politicians and too many good ol’ boys that just don’t understand the problems we’re going through.”