Putting Education Reform To The Test

Everything You Need to Know About Education and the Florida 2012 GOP Primary

Emmanuel Dunand / AFP

The Republican presidential candidates at a debate in Charleston, S.C. last week.

As the Republican candidates for president arrive in Florida, they agree on one thing: The federal government should have a smaller role in education.

But what that role should be varies among the candidates. Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul would eliminate the federal Department of Education and leave all decisions to state and local governments. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum all support — or have supported — a federal role, but have opposed some federal programs such as Race to the Top.

Florida has used federal programs, especially Race to the Top, to create the data-based initiatives measuring student, teacher and school performance first advocated by former Gov. Jeb Bush. That includes the new statewide teacher evaluation system districts must put in place by the 2014 school year.

One area where Republican candidates agree: Allowing parents more school options, including charter schools.

Where the GOP Candidates Stand on Education

If you’re still trying to make up your mind, here’s StateImpact Florida‘s guide to where the candidates stand on education.

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich

The rhetoric: ” I think you need very profound reform of education at the state level. You need to dramatically shrink the federal Department of Education, get rid of virtually all of its regulations. And the truth is, I believe we’d be far better off if most states adopted a program of the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-through-12, so that parents could choose where their child went to school, whether it was public, or private, or home-schooling, and parents could be involved. (Orlando debate, 9/22/2011).”

The record: Gingrich has taken various positions during his time as a public official.

In 1995, Gingrich said the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated. Since then he praised federal programs such as Race to the Top, which awards states grants in order to implement reforms designed to measure performance and promote school choice.

He has also generally supported the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the sweeping federal education law proposed by former President George W. Bush.

“I liked very much the fact that it talked about charter schools. It’s the one place I found to agree with President Obama,” Gingrich said at the September 7 debate in Simi Valley, Calif. “If every parent in America had a choice of the school their child went to, if that school had to report its scores, if there was a real opportunity, you’d have a dramatic improvement.”

Florida is using its $700 million grant to create a system to measure and evaluate teacher performance, for instance.

Gingrich has also praised Florida’s virtual school as a model for the rest of the country.

Gingrich has said he wants a program, similar to Pell Grants, which would allow parents to choose any K-12 school, public or private, for their child.

He joined U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and dozens of others in signing a list of policy priorities from the Education Equality Project. Those policies generally support increased accountability, more options for parents and improving teachers and principals.

Gingrich also said he supports the DREAM Act for those entering military service, and is not as hardline on immigration as other Republican candidates. Such a proposal would create a streamlined path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, and possibly mean access to in-state tuition rates.

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U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul

The rhetoric: “Education isn’t a right. Medical care isn’t a right. These are things that you have to earn.” (MSNBC interview, 3/2/2011)

The record: No candidate’s record on education matches their words as closely as Paul.

Paul has said repeatedly that he would shut down the U.S. Department of Education and argues that policy decisions should be as made as close to the local level as possible.

Paul would also end No Child Left Behind and allow states to opt out of the program.

Paul is a school choice purist.

He argues parents should be given more resources to educate their children at home. But Paul also opposes vouchers for private school tuition, arguing they are “little more than another tax-funded welfare program establishing an entitlement to a private school education.”

Instead, Paul sponsored a bill granting a $3,000 tax credit for use in public, private or home schooling.

Emmanuel Dunand / AFP

Fomer Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

The rhetoric: “Let me tell you what I think I’d do. One, education has to be held at the local and state level, not at the federal level. We need to get the federal government out of education. (Orlando debate, 9/22/2011)

The record: Romney believes the federal government has a limited role in education policy and funding.

Romney has mostly supported No Child Left Behind.

During his 2008 presidential run, Romney said the law had been crucial to requiring states to adopt data-based accountability measures, similar to those Massachusetts adopted while Romney was governor.

But Romney also said the law should allow flexibility for states whose testing standards exceed those required by No Child Left Behind. The U.S. Department of Education is currently considering exempting some states which have adopted strict accountability measures from NCLB requirements.

On the campaign trail Romney said that the federal Race to the Top grant program “has done some good things,” but backed off his support when criticized by Texas Gov. Rick Perry at a debate.

“I don’t support any particular program that he’s describing,” Romney said at the September Orlando debate. “I think that the president…I think that the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, is — is doing a good thing by saying, you know what? We should insist that teachers get evaluated and that schools have the opportunity to see which teachers are succeeding and which ones are failing and that teachers that are not successful are removed from the classroom.”

When governor, Romney supported a bill that would have created vouchers for private school tuition. The legislation would have means-tested recipients.

Romney opposes legislation that would create a streamlined path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, known as the DREAM Act. One benefit of a similar bill proposed in Florida would be those students could access in-state tuition rates.

Update: At Monday’s Tampa debate, Romney said he would also support the DREAM Act if it only allowed citizenship through military service.

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Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum

The rhetoric: “I admit, I’m a strong conservative, but I’m not perfect. President Bush’s signature initiative of No Child Left Behind, I voted for it, I shouldn’t have. It was something that I said, and I will say publicly, that we should repeal.” (Myrtle Beach debate, 1/17/2012)

The record: Santorum’s No Child Left Behind vote has come to symbolize his change of heart on the federal government’s role in education.

Santorum now says that vote was wrong and that he supports eliminating the federal role.

“In fact, we should repeal all of federal government’s role in primary and secondary education,” Santorum said at that Myrtle Beach debate, “and if you give me the opportunity, I’ll do that.”

Conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, have criticized Santorum’s Congressional record and support for national standards.

Santorum has long supported school choice, including twice voting for a voucher program for Washington, D.C. while serving in Congress.

He has also supported a requirement to teach intelligent design theory as part of evolutionary science. He has argued comprehensive sexual education is ineffective and has no impact on teen pregnancy.

“We continue to pour millions more dollars into comprehensive sex ed, which ‘protects’ against the ‘effect’ of unhealthy behavior, rather than promoting virtue, which will lead to healthy behavior,” Santorum wrote in his book “It Takes A Family.”

The Santorums have home-schooled their six children. They have also enrolled them in Pennsylvania’s virtual school while living in Washington, D.C.


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