EdWeek: Romney Begins to Detail His Education Vision

Throughout the election season, Education Week has set the standard for day-to-day, exceptionally detailed coverage of education policy as it relates to the 2012 Presidential race — it’s no wonder that they’ve delivered the most thorough analysis of the education positions expressed by both candidates during the first debate.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has so far only spoken in general terms about his views on the American public school system, but last Wednesday, he finally got into some specifics. Michele McNeil explains what his promises would mean to schools, faculty, students and families if Romney were to walk away a winner this November.

One of the statements that drew the most attention was Romney’s promise that, if elected, he would not cut federal education funding. The promise raised some eyebrows in light of the commitment, expressed both by Romney and by his running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, to reduce the government deficit and national debt. McNeil also wonders what that would mean in light of Romney’s expressed support for the “austere” Ryan budget proposed earlier this year that calls for 20% across-the-board cuts to all domestic spending.

Also puzzling was the fact that in the early stages of the debate, Romney seemed to indicate that all spending would be subject to review when he said that every program would have to justify its usefulness versus having to go further into debt to China to fund it. The commitment to keep education funding at the same level didn’t come until the closing minutes of the debate.

If Romney is elected and holds education harmless, that would mean that as he seeks to slash the deficit he might have to make even bigger cuts elsewhere, and at a time when some in his party want to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education altogether.

Romney made his pledge at the University of Denver—in the first of three debates between the two candidates—after a relatively lengthy assault by Obama, who said:

“Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do.”

Romney also put forward the idea that federal education dollars should be given directly to students in the form of vouchers, but once again the specifics were sparse. According to McNeil, the federal government only kicks in about 10% of all primary and secondary education funding, which means that without cooperation from the state and the local districts, vouchers wouldn’t provide students with much choice at all.

One point of agreement between the candidates was that improving the quality of the education system would allow the country to reap substantial economic benefits, but at the debate it was clearer than ever that President Barack Obama and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney have a very different view of how to bring about such an improvement.

On the front-end of the 90-minute debate, Obama touted his plan to hire an additional 100,000 math and science teachers and create 2 million new slots in community colleges, while keeping college tuition low.