The Presidential General Election is Nov. 6, and both candidates for President—Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama—have distinct views on public education that will change national education policy and school funding.
While the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t fund any public schools directly, it provides for the distribution of tax dollars and resources to the states, which do fund public education. The state systems provide funds to public schools under their administration, and also manage curriculum requirements and achievement standards.
The federal government can’t actually legislate many of its policies as law. Instead, it incentivizes states to meet certain standards by promising funds for education.
One such program, championed by the Obama Administration, is called Race to the Top.
“There’s a huge pot of money that’s available to the states,” says CHS AP Government and Politics teacher Bill Schrier. “To get it, states need to change their way of doing things, particularly in teacher evaluation.”
Meet the requirements set by the fed, Schrier says, and a state receives extra funding.
The President has touted Race to the Top in his campaign this year.
“We want to challenge all the stakeholders— parents, teachers, unions, school administrators,” Obama has said. “We want them to not only raise standards, but make the changes that are required to actually meet those standards.”
Obama argues that by providing an incentive—a carrot rather than a stick—states are given the flexibility necessary to meet the new standards of achievement and teacher evaluation.
Has Race to the Top been successful?
“That’s a huge question,” Schrier says. “I think you’ll find people on both sides about that.”
Obama contends that Race to the Top has been a success. He cites improvements in math scores among public school students reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Department of Education’s standardized testing program.
Governor Romney contends that the Obama Administration’s policies have been ineffective at improving student and teacher performance, citing lagging reading scores and stagnant high school graduation rates during Obama’s current term. Romney also contends that improved math scores are part of a larger trend that began in the 1990s.
Romney’s education platform is centered on expanding school choice for poor students or students at underperforming schools.
School choice is a process in which vouchers are given to parents of students. Parents are able to use the vouchers as a coupon for discounted or free tuition at a private school, or at a charter school outside their district, instead of attending local schools. Advocates like Romney say that parents will send their children to the best schools, which receive government assistance. In this way, higher achieving students are rewarded.
Romney says he will, if elected, “expand parental choice in an unprecedented way.” He says allowing parents to judge the qualities of a school for themselves “will hold schools responsible for results.”
“Some people say it will devastate public education,” Schrier says. “Ultimately, education is a huge issue.”