Less than one hundred days remain until American voters go to the polls to decide who will be the next President of the United States. As the Republican National Convention continues in Florida, the candidates are working overtime to differentiate themselves — and one of the things drawing attention, just at the time when children are heading back to class, is where each candidate stands on the issue of education.
President Barack Obama has been circling the country touting his achievements in education, especially his reform efforts like NCLB waivers and Race to the Top grants. The stimulus package he supported and helped usher through Congress included nearly $100 billion in education spending, which, according to the numbers released by the administration, saved nearly 300,000 jobs. Several of his initiatives have even won support from lawmakers across the aisle, including his selection of Chicago’s Arne Duncan, a strong supporter of the school choice movement and student achievement-based accountability systems, as his U.S. Secretary of Education.
Former Governor of Massachusetts and the Republican candidate for President Mitt Romney released his 34-page policy paper on education this spring. In it he criticized President Obama’s stimulus spending for not delivering enough bang for the buck when it came to academic improvement. The paper, titled “A Chance for Every Child,” doesn’t directly address education spending; nor does the budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. However, both men favor across-the-board spending cuts of roughly 5%.
What both candidates have in common is the lack of enthusiasm for the cornerstone of former President George W. Bush’s cornerstone education policy piece — the No Child Left Behind Act. While President Obama has long lobbied for a re-write of the act, and has given states the opportunity to opt out of some of its provisions, Mitt Romney favors an even more radical departure from both the letter and spirit of the law.
“Romney wants to dial it back further and really gut the provisions of NCLB … make it more of an information mandate rather than a school intervention/turnaround kind of mandate,” says Patrick McGuinn, a political science and education professor at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Romney proposes to replace school-intervention aspects of NCLB – such as offering tutoring or replacing the staff at chronically failing schools – with a requirement that states provide more transparency about school results.
The Romney campaign has stuck close to the Republican Party platform on the issue of school choice. Under President Romney, federal funding would attach entirely to a student and not to the district or the school. Romney is also a strong supporter of voucher programs when allowed by state law.
Congress is unlikely to want to change the current formulas by which these grants are distributed to states and schools, education analysts say.
Romney’s plan is in a bit of a tricky position, “because certainly the [Republican] base likes school choice, but they also like a limited federal role in education,” says Michael Petrilli, an education expert and executive vice president at Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.