Romney, the debate and education


President Obama and Mitt Romney at the first debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3. (Rick Wilking/AP)

Mitt Romney, as is well-known by now, had a great debate, at least on debating merits if not on facts.

Education wasn’t high on the list of topics mentioned during the debate but it did come up a few times.

Romney said that the public schools in the state where he was once governor, Massachusetts, are “ranked number one of all 50 states.” That may be true in some rankings, but the one people generally look at is the one done by Education Week, which has given the top spot to Maryland for four straight years. Massachusetts has great schools, but they became excellent before he was governor.

He also said he had no intention of cutting education funding: “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.”

That ignores the fact that he has been supporting a federal budget plan outlined by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, that cuts billions from education funding.

Which position is posturing?

One place where Romney was consistent on education was when he said that education funding should “follow the child” and that parents should decide which school to send their children.

This is a euphemism for a system of vouchers that would give public money to families to pay for tuition at private schools, religious and otherwise. The notion of “school choice” sounds attractive until you look at the realities — that families don’t really get their choice and that there is no evidence that most non-public schools are better than public schools.

The latest, biggest experiment with charters around the country is in Louisiana, where state officials approved scores of private schools to accept voucher students, even though many didn’t have the teachers, facilities or supplies to handle them. Some of these schools use creationist curriculum that teaches that dinosaurs and human beings lived during the same time.

This is one area where Obama and Romney disagree, and it’s a vital one. Obama doesn’t support vouchers.

Romney’s performance in the first debate made clear that even at a time when he is trying to look like more of a moderate than he has on the campaign trail, he is still determined to push for voucher systems across the country. That’s an important thing for families to know.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 4, 2012