By Bill Scott
KSBA Executive Director
As we approach the 2012 presidential election it’s important for local board members and other education leaders to review the positions of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney related to public education.
The National School Boards Action Center is an excellent resource on this topic and I would encourage anyone seeking more information to visit that website. Much of this article is based on that resource, along with a column by Michael Resnick, NSBA’s federal advocacy and public policy director, which appeared in the August edition of the American School Board Journal.
In many areas of education policy, the candidates share similar views. For instance, they both support high state academic standards, rigorous assessments, and the use of student test scores to track annual growth for school accountability and teacher effectiveness.
They also agree on using federal influence and resources to encourage innovation and change, such as establishing more charter schools, rewarding good teachers and promoting nontraditional routes into the teaching profession.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two candidates is their view of the federal government’s role in public education. Romney favors reducing the national impact on local schools, including the Department of Education itself as an agency.
Although he hasn’t laid out specifics, he has expressed support for the budget plan proposed by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, which would result in overall reductions to education funding in both 2013 and 2014.
Romney also supports the expansion of private-sector choices, including allowing Title I students and students with disabilities to use federal funds to support their enrollment in private schools, charter schools or digital courses. Romney views teachers’ unions as an impediment to needed reform and teacher accountability, and has advocated eliminating or at least significantly revising teacher tenure.
On the other hand, Obama favors a more active education role for the federal government as witnessed by the Race for the Top initiative and state waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Both of these programs advocate college and career ready standards (a.k.a. Common Core State Standards), more effective teachers and principals and strategies for turning around low-performing schools.
Although the president has consistently opposed vouchers for private schools, he did support funds to expand this program in the nation’s capital.
In the area of additional federal funding, Obama provided approximately $100 billion through the 2009 stimulus program followed by another $10 billion for school jobs in 2010. Since that time he has unsuccessfully advocated for additional funding for school construction and the hiring of teachers and first responders.
In general, the president has taken a more collaborative approach with teachers’ unions, including requiring them to sign off on grant proposals such as Race to the Top.
Summing up, although the two candidates agree on the federal government’s continued promotion of effective teachers as well as rigorous standards, testing and accountability, they differ on many other important education issues.
While Romney favors less federal regulation, reduced funding in favor of more reliance on the private sector for alternatives to public schools, Obama supports an even stronger federal role, including more funding for education.
As America continues its recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it’s more important than ever for local education leaders to weigh in on the future role of the federal government in public education. Regardless of which vision you support, I hope you will cast your vote on November 6.
— Click here for more information on presidential and congressional campaigns relating to public education, please visit NSBA’s Action Center.