Is Romney Any Better Than Obama For Education?

Neal McCluskey writing for Cato At Liberty argues that presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s education policies are only a little better than Obama’s — at least as far as K-12 education is concerned.

McCluskey takes issue with Romney’s advocacy of federal enticements to herd states into implementing education policies. While the policies themselves may be well meaning federal funding incentives are effectively a strong arm bypassing of the Constitution. Calling them by a harmless sounding name does nothing to diminish their coercive power. McCluskey illustrates his point by noting that No Child Left Behind is in effect merely an incentive program which States could have chosen to completely ignore. Except that they couldn’t. The lure of funding is irresistible and the resultant lack of choice makes them effective coercion.

Where Romney’s K-12 offering is most enticing is his proposal that federal money be attached to low-income and special-needs children and made portable even to private schools.

While McCluskey is riled by Romney’s indication that he will continue to interfere with education on a federal level, he is considerably happier with Romney’s approach to Higher Education:

The good news about Gov. Romney’s outline is that it directly addresses the primary problem in higher education, and one of its primary causes: insane tuition inflation fueled by massive federal student aid. Indeed, though he will no doubt get flayed for it by the higher ed establishment, who will publicly deny it like so many naked emperors, Mr. Romney’s outline is refreshingly straightforward in identifying the root problem.

This root problem is the recently revitalized Bennett Hypothesis which is rapidly gaining acceptance among education advocates willing to accept the heresy that federal aid may not be a panacea. Indeed it may well be the root cause of tuition fees spiraling out of control. Andrew Gillen recently wrote a paper for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, titled ‘Introducing the Bennett Hypothesis 2.0′ in which he argues that if no tuition cap exists at a school then the school become free to maximize revenue by price discriminating amongst its students. The end result being that federal aid doesn’t help students overall, but merely enriches colleges who raise tuition fees to capture as much of the federal aid as possible. In addition third party services like Higher One have recently been accused of excessively siphoning federal aid from students via hidden charges and deceptive marketing.

So what grade does Mr. Romney get on education, at least from this initial outline? About a 30 percent for K-12, and a 90 percent for higher ed. That works out to 60 percent — a woeful D-minus – but that’s probably a tad bit better than most presidents would have gotten since the 1960s.

05 24, 2012