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LGBT rights & Education

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LGBT rights

During his presidency, Obama, Congress, and the Supreme Court all contributed to a huge expansion of LGBT rights. In 2009, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded hate crime laws to cover crimes committed because of the victim's sexual orientation. In December 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which ended the military's policy of disallowing openly gay and lesbian people from openly serving in the United States Armed Forces. Obama also supported the passage of ENDA, which would ban discrimination against employees on the basis of gender or sexual identity for all companies with 15 or more employees, and the similar but more comprehensive Equality Act.  Neither bill passed Congress. In May 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage, shortly after Vice President Joe Biden had also expressed support for the institution. The following year, Obama appointed Todd M. Hughes to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, making Hughes the first openly gay federal judge in U.S. history. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, and Obama personally congratulated the plaintiff. Obama also issued dozens of executive orders intended to help LGBT Americans, including a 2010 order that extended full benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. A 2014 order prohibited discrimination against employees of federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ended the ban on women in combat roles, and in 2016, he ended the ban on transgender individuals openly serving in the military. On the international stage, Obama advocated for gay rights, particularly in Africa.

Education

The Great Recession of 2008-09 caused a sharp decline in tax revenues in all cities and states. The response was to cut education budgets. Obama's $800 billion stimulus package included $100 billion for public schools, which every state used to protect its educational budget. However, in terms of sponsoring innovation, Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan pursued K-12 education reform through the Race to the Top grant program. With over $15 billion of grants at stake, 34 states quickly revised their education laws according to the proposals of advanced educational reformers. In the competition points were awarded for allowing charter schools to multiply, for compensating teachers on a merit basis including student test scores, and for adopting higher educational standards. There were incentives for states to establish college and career-ready standards, which in practice meant adopting the Common Core State Standards Initiative that had been developed on a bipartisan basis by the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The criteria were not mandatory, they were incentives to improve opportunities to get a grant. Most states revised their laws accordingly, even though they realized it was unlikely they would when a highly competitive new grant. Race to the Top had strong bipartisan support, with centrist elements from both parties. It was opposed by the left wing of the Democratic Party, and by the right wing of the Republican Party, and criticized for centralizing too much power in Washington. Complaints also came from middle-class families, who were annoyed at the increasing emphasis on teaching to the test, rather than encouraging teachers to show creativity and stimulating students' imagination.

Obama also advocated for universal pre-kindergarten programs,  and two free years of community college for everyone. Through her Let's Move program and advocacy of healthier school lunches, First Lady Michelle Obama focused attention on childhood obesity, which was three times higher in 2008 than it had been in 1974. In December 2015, Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan bill that reauthorized federally mandated testing but shrank the federal government's role in education, especially with regard to troubled schools. The law also ended the use of waivers by the Education Secretary. In post-secondary education, Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which ended the role of private banks in lending out federally insured student loans, created a new income-based loan repayment plan known as Pay as You Earn, and increased the amount of Pell Grant awards given each year. He also instituted new regulations on for-profit colleges, including a "gainful employment" rule that restricted federal funding from colleges that failed to adequately prepare graduates for careers.

 

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