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In the end, though, it likely will come down to dollars, specialists say. Massachusetts’ per-pupil spending is eighth in the nation, helping to drive its high academic performance.

But with Republicans intent on slashing federal spending, Mr. Romney will face significant challenges with respect to education if he becomes president.

“You don’t have to drop your standards if you’re willing to pay for what it takes,” Mr. Coleman said. “If you’re going to be a classic fiscal conservative and not raise taxes, you’re going to have to lower your standards or you’re setting yourself up your failure.”