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Republican Party presidential candidates continue to battle it out to see who might face the Democratic Party nominee—most likely, President Barack Obama—in the 2012 race for the White House. As they’ve made known their views about everything from health care and taxes to abortion and gay marriage, education has thus far been overlooked as a big-ticket issue. But that doesn’t mean the leading candidates don’t have opinions—or track records. Here’s a look at what each of the eight main candidates has said on the campaign trail:
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann, the current U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s sixth congressional district, traces her political roots to education activism. Not only did she start a charter school in 1993—serving on its board until she resigned when it faced allegations of teaching religion in the classroom—Bachmann also once ran for the Stillwater School Board of Education with a conservative block who opposed the state’s graduation standards. To date, it’s the only race she’s lost.
Bachmann has criticized No Child Left Behind, saying, for instance, on her Congressional website that it “created a classroom environment of ‘teaching to the test,’ a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that does not work well for every student.” To replace NCLB, she’s co-sponsored a bill that would allow states to develop their own curricula. So far, all she’s been vocal about in this election cycle is the idea of abolishing the U.S. Department of Education.
Herman Cain: Cain has the distinction of being the only candidate among this group to feature an education platform online. He is for pay-for-performance, arguing that “performance incentives work in business, and they will work in education, too.” Cain, a businessman and radio host from Atlanta, also wants to expand vouchers and charter schools, saying “such measures have proven time and time again to best serve the students.” (Charter critics would likely point out research that’s found most charter schools do no better than traditional public schools.)
Like many of the other anti-big government candidates, Cain supports local control of education. “I don’t believe in unfunded mandates,” he said, responding to a question about No Child Left Behind in the August 11th debate among Republican candidates. “I believe that the federal government should be out of the business of trying to micromanage the education of our children.”
Newt Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House made education one of his signature issues in 2009 when he toured the country with Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton, among others, to promote national education reform. He hasn’t been very outspoken about his education policies this time around, but he does believe that the U.S. Department of Education should play a smaller role than it currently does. He told the conservative, Christian blog Caffeinated Thoughts that he’d like to see the federal department “shrink to a research and reporting agency and that its design is to help find new and innovative approaches to then be adopted voluntarily at the local level.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Gingrich is opposed to the Common Core State Standards, a national set of math and English standards that 48 states helped draft and 44 have adopted. Gingrich also thinks that all student loans should come from the private sector. He’s proposed adopting a Pell grant-type system at the K-12 level, which some have suggested is little more than a rebranding of vouchers. In the past, he’s talked about programs that would pay kids to learn math and science, allow students to graduate early from high school in exchange for scholarship money, and allow professionals to moonlight as part-time teachers.
Jon Huntsman, Jr.: Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and one-time ambassador to China, was one of two candidates questioned about education in the August 11th debate (Cain was the other). He said that NCLB needed to be done away with and that education needed to be taken back to the local level. Huntsman added, “We need choice. We need vouchers. We need more technology in the classroom,” before switching topics entirely to the country’s near-default.
While Huntsman hasn’t made his education policies a focal point of his campaign, there is at least one report of him impressing an inquisitive teacher on the campaign trail with a “detailed response that included adding charter schools and an emphasis on early education.”
Ron Paul: U.S. Representative Paul, of Texas, is a self-proclaimed “homeschooling champion,” even devoting a section of his website to his position on the subject. He supports tax credits for parents who home-school their children and, if elected, promises to “veto any legislation that encroaches on homeschooling parents’ rights.” Paul is for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education—he referred to it as a “propaganda machine” in March—and voted against NCLB in 2001. In a tax credit bill, he once proposed an annual $1,000 tax credit for teachers.
Much like Gingrich, Paul is against the federal government giving out student loans for higher education, saying in an interview with MSNBC, “Nobody has a right to somebody else’s wealth. You have a right to your life, you have a right to your property, but you don’t have—education isn’t a right. Medical care isn’t a right. These are things you have to earn.” Paul did later clarify that he was fine with students receiving loans from other sources, such as the schools themselves.
Rick Perry: The governor of Texas has boasted about his education record there—even though many, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have questioned it. While Perry claims to have pushed Texas to the forefront in developing college and career readiness standards, opponents cite the state’s low high-school graduation rate and huge cuts to public education on the governor’s watch.
This much is certain: Perry doesn’t “think the federal government has a role in education.” Texas was one of just two states—Alaska was the other—that refused to participate in developing the Common Core State Standards. And it was one of four states—alongside Alaska, North Dakota and Vermont—that didn’t apply in either round of the federal Race to the Top competition last year. In his 2010 book, Fed Up, Perry describes Republicans’ willingness to consider reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—of which NCLB is the latest incarnation—as a “perfect example” of “losing sight of the fact that perfectly laudable policy choices at the local level are not appropriate (much less constitutional) at the federal level.”
Mitt Romney: Romney’s education record as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 isn’t looked at with the same skepticism as Perry’s in Texas. The Bay State’s school system is widely considered the country’s best. While in office, Romney lifted the state’s charter cap and made it easier to fire ineffective teachers. In a speech given at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he spoke of hiring teachers from the top third of graduating college classes—and giving them more money. “School accountability, school choice, cyber schools will be priorities,” he also said.
In the 1990s, Romney was for doing away with the U.S. Department of Education. In a Republican presidential debate in 2007, however, he acknowledged having changed his mind: “As I’ve been a governor and seen the impact that the federal government can have holding down the interest of the teachers unions and instead putting the interests of the kids and the parents and the teachers first, I see that the Department of Education can actually make a difference.” But that doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with the role the Department is now playing. At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire this June, Romney questioned the constitutionality of certain types of federal involvement in education.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator, like his competitors, wants to see the U.S. Department of Education play a less prominent role. Unlike some of them, however, he has supported NCLB. “I voted for it because I thought, well, we need to get the facts and we need to have some national system to be able to determine whether we are in fact succeeding or failing,” he said in a January interview with CNSNews.com. But, in Santorum’s eyes, the Common Core State Standards go too far. He wants to see the country “customize” education—as opposed to the “factory model” supported by the national government that he says we have today.
Santorum has been criticized for his views on early childhood education: He’s against it. “It is a parent’s responsibility to educate their children. It is not the government’s job,” he said in an Iowa town hall meeting on August 2nd. “Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can. That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children.”
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