- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Parents would like to choose where their kids go to school, if they could. In a speech to the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington D.C., Mitt Romney laid out his case for choice-based education reform. “Here we are in the most prosperous nation, but millions of kids are getting a Third World education,” he said. “And America’s minority children suffer the most. This is the civil rights issue of our era.”

Part of Mr. Romney’s solution is to increase the amount of choice in the education system. Under the Romney plan, tens of billions of dollars in federal education aid for low-income and disadvantaged students would no longer go to school districts but to students themselves. The students would be able to use vouchers to pay for tuition at any school they wanted to attend, whether public or private, brick-and-mortar or online. The plan would increase options for students and force public schools to raise their quality or go out of business.

Education is a favorable issue for Republicans. A Gallup survey in January found 61 percent of Americans were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the state of public education in the country. Hispanic voters in particular ranked access to education as a critical issue, even above immigration. School choice has always benefitted students with low income and high potential. Voucher plans - which emphasize individual choice, market discipline, innovation and experimentation - speak to core conservative values. This enables Mr. Romney to draw important contrasts with President Obama, particularly regarding unpopular teachers unions, which universally oppose vouchers. Mr. Romney touted the District’s voucher-based Opportunity Scholarship Program, which D.C. parents support but teachers unions strongly oppose. The Obama administration is phasing out the program.

The speech was well-timed, given recent headlines highlighting problems in public schools. Last week, in an emergency session, the Florida State Board of Education lowered the bar on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test after only about a third of students got passing grades. A teacher at North Rowan High School in Salisbury, N.C., was suspended pending an investigation after an audiotape went viral of her browbeating a student who disagreed with her sycophantic views of Mr. Obama. In April, a Virginia elementary school teacher gained some notoriety after informing her students, “Republicans are stupid.”

The Obama campaign might have thought education was a safe issue. Lately, the White House has focused on collegiate issues, such as exploding tuition costs and student debt. Mr. Obama’s Race to the Top education plan was generally well-received, but his campaign is increasingly reliant on unions to provide money and manpower for the fall election, which leaves the president with little flexibility to deviate from the party line. The Romney campaign has seized the high ground on an issue that leaves the Obama camp with no room to maneuver. When it comes to dogmatically supporting the teachers unions, Mr. Obama has no choice.

The Washington Times

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