Romney borrowed from Obama, calling education “the civil rights issue of our era,” but then tried to draw a sharp contrast, saying the president is beholden to teachers unions and blaming him for rising college costs, among other things.
During his speech at the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, Romney said he would “do everything in my power to reverse this decline” in America’s schools, adding that if it were not for the struggling economy and the housing crisis, education would be “the great cause of this campaign.”
Romney said he wants to expand choices for families so children can flee failing schools. His campaign released a white paper highlighting his support for federal vouchers — a plan to reroute tax dollars sent to public schools to help educate poor and disabled children, instead letting that money follow the students to private schools. The federal government will spend $48.8 billion this year on poor and disabled students.
Romney did not discuss how he would fix troubled public schools. He said No Child Left Behind, the federal education law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, was too prescriptive in requiring failing schools to adopt specific turnaround strategies. Instead, he suggested that schools would feel pressure to improve if they had to issue public report cards documenting their performance, although No Child Left Behind already requires them to report such data.
Progressive groups said Romney’s approach would return the nation to a time without accountability. “We have a long history in this country — and you can see it in the civil rights struggle to desegregate schools — of states and districts not doing anything to provide an equal educational opportunity for all students,” said Cynthia Brown of the Center for American Progress.
Romney slammed the Obama administration for not funding next year’s budget for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004 as the first and only vehicle to provide federal money for private-school vouchers for low-income children. He said he wants to expand the program to make it a “national showcase.”
A 2010 study by the Department of Education found “no conclusive evidence” that the D.C. program improved achievement, noting that students with vouchers had reading and math test scores that were statistically similar to the scores of students without them, although they were more likely to graduate from high school.