Obama, Romney Spar Over Teachers Unions

In the frantic final campaigning days of the 2012 election season, the two Presidential candidates have been trading barbs over their relationship – or lack thereof – with teachers unions around the country.

While the Chicago teachers strike was going on, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of allowing teachers unions to dictate policy to the detriment of their students. Romney pointed out that Obama went so far as to send his most visible proxy – Vice President Joe Biden – to speak about the Administration’s support for the union at their annual convention. In reply, President Obama has said that Romney’s comments during the strike amounted to “teacher-bashing.”

The President’s comments came during Obama’s appearance on NBC Today Show last week when he accused Romney of attempting to use the strike for political gain. He said his administration favors an approach that attempts to balance the needs of the teachers as expressed by the unions with the demands of education reformers who are looking to improve the quality of the nation’s schools. While he also expressed support for making it easier to fire underperforming teachers, he moderated this by saying that additional training, not pink slips, should be the first resort.

The Romney campaign said that the administration’s position was, in effect, putting the unions’ demands ahead of their students.

“Instead of reforming education and putting achievement in the classroom first, President Obama has put politics and his allegiance to the teachers’ unions ahead of students,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in an email. “When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts’ schools had the best test scores in the entire country and his leadership expanded opportunities for high-achieving students. As president, he will stand up for students, not special interests, and work to ensure that every child has access to a great school, great teacher, and a quality education.”

The statement echoes the sentiments expressed by Romney while the Chicago strike was still unresolved. He said that the strike, which closed the city’s public schools for close to two weeks, was a perfect demonstration of what happens when union interests conflict with the interests of children.

“President Obama,” Romney said, “has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you.’ “

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program shortly after Obama’s remarks were aired and expressed sympathy with the difficulties faced by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but maintained that the city should emulate the examples set by New York City and Miami-Dade County by attempting to keep fallout from contract negotiations away from the kids.