Education Policy a Whipping Boy for GOP Hopefuls

By Stacy Morford

EditedBy

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 5:25 a.m. MDT

Mr. McGuinn expects that as GOP candidates are pressed to flesh out their K-12 positions, they may borrow ideas already floating around Capitol Hill, including the principles in a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Kline, of Minnesota, the chairman of the House education panel. The measure would give districts unprecedented leeway in shifting funds from one federal program to another.

President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top state competition has also come under fire in the campaign, with Gov. Perry attacking Mr. Romney for his support of the program. Mr. Romney said recently that he thought the competition helped push states to adopt policies such as expanding charter schools and offering states merit pay.

Disdain for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, part of the 2009 federal economic-stimulus package, is to be expected, Mr. Kress said.

Race to the Top took “federal power to a new level,” he said. “If people are going to have trouble with NCLB, they’re really going to have trouble with Race to the Top. It put the department into a position of making decisions about instruction and things that NCLB left to the states.”

Some Shifts

The two front-runners appear to have had at least some change of heart over the past decade on the NCLB law and the federal role

Back in 2002, when President Bush was in office, Mr. Perry issued a statement that seemed to take pride in the fact that Texas’ own accountability system helped serve as a blueprint for what became the NCLB law.

“Texas was a model for President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation, and we continue to lead the nation in innovative solutions to improve our schools,” Gov. Perry said in a press release in July 2002.

Now, perhaps more than any governor in the country, Mr. Perry has resisted President Obama’s education agenda, decrying it as federal overreach. His state was one of just six to opt out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and he’s been highly critical of the fact that states were given a leg-up in the Race to the Top competition if they were willing to adopt uniform academic standards. Texas also sat out both rounds of the Race to the Top competition.

But Mr. Perry has been supportive of other concepts that Mr. Obama also embraces. For instance, Mr. Perry helped champion a performance-pay program for teachers, although he signed off on major cuts to the Texas program earlier this year. Mr. Obama has encouraged states to adopt merit pay through Race to the Top.

As a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2008, Gov. Romney was one of the few cheerleaders for the NCLB law on the campaign trail. In fact, during a May 15, 2007, debate, he singled it out as one area where his own views differed from the Republican base.

And, in a speech in Miami last week, Mr. Romney praised President Bush for passing the NCLB law, while in the same breath saying that education is primarily a state responsibility.

“I know this isn’t popular,” he said. “I think President Bush was right to insist states test kids. And I think the reason he was right to do that is that it was hard for states to stand up to the national teachers’ unions. They had so much power.” But then, he added, “I supported that and continue to support testing at the state level of our kids. But the real answer for me on education is get it back to the states.”

Robert Costrell, a longtime adviser to Gov. Romney who is now a professor at the University of Arkansas, said that Mr. Romney supports the NCLB law taken as a whole. Mr. Romney sees a limited, but important, role for the federal government in encouraging practices at the state level, such as accountability and expanded school choice, Mr. Costrell said.

Consistent Critics

But others in the field have been against the NCLB law almost from the start, even when many of their Republican colleagues supported it.

For instance, as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2004, now-U.S. Rep. Bachmann worked with Democrats to champion a resolution that would have sought a waiver for Minnesota from the NCLB accountability rules.

As governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman signed a bill in 2005 that would have allowed the state’s own accountability system to trump the NCLB law. The state eventually backed off its stance because it would have meant the loss of Title I money for disadvantaged students.

And back in 2001, Rep. Paul was one of just 41 members of the House of Representatives to vote against the law, because he viewed it as a major expansion of the federal role in K-12.

Now that position is in vogue with more Republicans.

“The politics is shifting,” said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, who also served as a longtime aide to Democrats on the House education committee. “They’re disowning their own past.”

Republished with permission from Education Week. Copyright © 2011 Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. For more information, visit www.edweek.org.

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