Teachers unions are steadfastly opposed to vouchers.
“What Romney fails to understand is that when teachers and public schools have the resources they need, students win,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Real public education improvement comes from teachers, administrators, parents and communities rolling up their sleeves and working together to help all kids, not just some kids, succeed.”
The idea of vouchers, which has floated around for decades, began gaining traction across the country in 2010 after Republicans won majorities in several state legislatures. Louisiana, Indiana and other states have passed programs that allow poor and even middle-income children to use state tax dollars for private-school tuition. Some legal challenges have arisen regarding the constitutionality of giving public money to private religious schools.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, created by the late economist and free-market advocate Milton Friedman, welcomed the introduction of vouchers into the presidential campaign. “If you want to dramatically improve education, you have to give all parents the freedom to choose,” said Susan L. Meyers, a spokeswoman for the foundation.
In his speech, Romney lashed out at teachers unions, which he said are entrenched interests opposed to common-sense reforms.
“When your cause in life is preventing parents from having a meaningful choice or children from having a real chance, then you are on the wrong side,” he said. “You might even be in the wrong vocation, because good teachers put the interests of children first.”
This week, Romney announced a team of education advisers that includes Rod Paige, a former education secretary who drew fire in 2004 when he called the National Education Association, the largest teachers union, a “terrorist organization.”
Romney also attacked Obama for his connections to the politically powerful unions, saying the president is talking about reform while “indulging” the groups that are blocking it. “He can’t be the voice of disadvantaged public school kids and the protector of special interests,” Romney said. “We have to stop putting campaign cash ahead of our kids.”
Teachers union leaders were attending a conference Wednesday to discuss ways to work with management to improve schools. “His speech demonstrates a complete disdain for public schools and educators,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “He’s completely out of touch with what is happening in schools and classrooms across the country.”