Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why You Won’t Hear Much About Education at the GOP Debate in Tampa

Robyn Beck / AFP

Republican presidential candidates at last week's debate in California. CNN and the Tea Party Express host a debate in Tampa tonight.

If you had to guess, how many of 2012 Republican presidential candidates appearing at this evening’s Tampa debate list education as an issue on their campaign web sites?

Just one: Radio host and former pizza executive Herman Cain.

Other candidates, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, tie education to job creation. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has a section on homeschooling. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania mentions his support of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s website boasts “he signed budgets that invest billions more in education.”

If past performance is any guide, don’t expect education to be a major issue in this evening’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate. (Particularly with so much recent focus on Social Security).

Why? Because polls show voters are focused elsewhere.

According to a George Washington University/Politico poll of 1,000 likely voters from earlier this month, education was the fourth-most important issue behind the economy, government spending and jobs.

One-quarter of those polled said jobs were the most important issue, while one-fifth said government spending was most important. Less than on in twelve polled chose education.

Public education is a dominant, and often unifying, issues for Democrats. But the issue is more nuanced for Republicans, who must bridge the spectrum of suburban voters happy with their districts to social and small government conservatives who oppose the notion of public schools.

The candidates have taken public stands on education issues. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota would eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has called the federal No Child Left Behind law an “unmitigated disaster.”

Most of the candidates — particularly the current and former governors — have lengthy education records.

Just don’t expect to hear much about it tonight.


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