For the second week in a row, small businesses in Washington served as the audience at key campaign stops for the 2012 presidential candidates.

A week after President Obama met with local small-business owners at Taylor Gourmet on 14th Street NW, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney spoke at the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit in Washington. The nonprofit coalition represents an overlap of two demographics Romney is aiming to win over in November: the business community and Latino voters.

In his speech, Romney steered clear of taxes, his job creation record at Bain Capital and other business-related topics that have dominated the campaign trail, focusing instead on what he called “a crisis in education.” He voiced support for school vouchers and vowed to improve teacher quality, create a national publicly available system to evaluate schools’ performance and consolidate programs in federal agencies that deal with teacher quality. He did not indicate specific measures businesses could take to help further this agenda.

In citing graduation statistics among students — one in four fails to earn a high school diploma, and half of children in major cities don’t finish high school — Romney encouraged business leaders to think about education reform in the context of improving a business.

“Imagine if your enterprise had a 25 percent to 50 percent failure rate in meeting its primary goal,” he said. “You would consider that a crisis. You would make changes, and fast. Because if you didn’t, you’d go out of business.”

The message marks a shift in how Romney is presenting himself to businesses: after months of framing his primary objective as fixing the economy, the candidate last week began tying unemployment with the quality of education.

“With all of our economic troubles, there’s a temptation to put off the task of fixing our nations’ schools for another time. But the jobs and housing failures of these past few years ... only make the need for education improvement all the more critical,” he said.