Opinion

Does John Edwards want to fight poverty or not?

Greene County is a tiny, rural, high-poverty place wedged between Greenville and Goldsboro in the central coastal plain. It has no car dealerships, no shopping malls and, except for an empty 6-mile stretch of U.S. 264 that flanks its northern border, no four-lane highway.

Only 8 percent of the people there hold a college degree, compared with 22 percent statewide. Yet in three years' time, the college-application rate among high school seniors has soared to 94 percent. Officials credit a program called “College for Everyone” set up by former presidential aspirant (and former U.S. Senator) John Edwards. It ostensibly showed his much-talked-about commitment to erase poverty – the centerpiece of his campaigns to be the Democratic nominee for White House.

Now, without any explanation, Mr. Edwards has ended the program, paid for with money from a private foundation he started. A spokesman said it was supposed to be only a three-year pilot project, but that's not how it was portrayed when it started.

What gives, Mr. Edwards?

It's not as though the program wasn't working. The first two years it helped 190 students go to such colleges as East Carolina University, Lenoir Community College and N.C. State University.

Yet no longer will high school seniors there be eligible, thanks to a generous program, for free tuition, fees and books at a public college for one year in exchange for working 10 hours a week, taking college prep courses and staying out of trouble.

What gives, Mr. Edwards?

Fighting poverty isn't the same as a campaign for office, where you close up shop and move on if you don't get the votes. It takes sustained public and private efforts, and Greene County was the perfect place to start. More than 20 percent of the people there live below the federal poverty level.

Mr. Edwards at least owes that community and the kids there an explanation for his sudden change of plans.

His silence makes it even harder to figure out what this millionaire trial lawyer who came from a modest background is all about. He won a seat in the U.S. Senate the first time out, worked hard and showed promise at providing the state an effective voice. Then he promptly gave it up for two failed runs for the White House.

He built those campaigns around fighting poverty with public policies aimed at education and access to opportunity. He set up his own poverty center and this foundation as proof of his personal commitment.

Now his bids for high office have ended. So has a promising program, and he hasn't even said why.

What gives, Mr. Edwards?

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