Obama, GOP governors share many views on education

By Kimberly Hefling

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 11:40 a.m. MST

Daniels added, "What that means, of course, is that the 'Hell, no' lobby has been increasingly isolated."

Daniels said that lobby includes not just teachers' unions, but organizations that represent school boards, superintendents and others in the education establishment reluctant to embrace change.

Obama, after months of portraying Republicans as obstacles to his more ambitious economic proposals, is seeking common ground with Republicans on education and on several more modest initiatives. Obama won an extension of a payroll tax cut with Republican support and has endorsed a legislative package assembled by House Republicans to help small businesses. Obama and House Republicans have also emphasized areas in which their energy policy agendas overlap, including easing some barriers to natural gas production, despite sharp differences over other ways to address energy self-sufficiency. Both sides also are working on infrastructure spending, especially a new highway bill.

One of the major areas of disagreement between Obama and the GOP governors in education is on the use of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school. Many Democrats believe vouchers chip away at dollars critical to public schools, and the Obama administration opposes them.

Jindal, who is pushing for a new voucher program in his home state, said in a phone interview that while he supports many of Obama's education efforts, he does "strongly" disagree with the administration's position on vouchers. "As long as there are children trapped in failing schools, we need to provide parents with more choices and ensure them more opportunities," he said.

Another area of disagreement is on restricting collective bargaining rights employees — a high-profile issue supported by Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. The Obama administration opposes taking away these rights.

While some Republican governors support ending tenure protections for teachers, the Obama administration has said tenure should be made more meaningful so that it's based not just on years of time in the classroom but on proof that students are learning.

The drive by the governors is accelerated by several factors, including a growing body of evidence that many students simply aren't learning and that effective teachers can dramatically alter students' lifetime earnings, as well as the push in this tough fiscal environment to ensure all dollars are spent wisely. The bottom line, said Scott, is that there's a "direct tie between education and jobs."

It's not just Republican governors turning to education. Among the Democrats, Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado recently signed a bill to implement new teacher tenure rules and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent weeks forged a deal on teacher evaluations.

Williams said in the '90s, there was a push for changes in education by governors, but it dried up. He says Obama gave the "mojo" back to governors.

Not all Republican governors are pleased with Obama's education policies. Some, like many Republicans in Congress, view Obama's efforts on education as federal overreach. Former GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for example, refused to have his state compete in the Race to the Top competition, saying it "smacks of a federal takeover of public schools."

After the president's speech to governors, in which Obama urged them to invest more state resources in education, South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley told reporters the meeting was "interesting and somewhat frustrating."

"My takeaway was here was a president who was saying we could be doing more on education, and here is a president that said give more money to education, but this is also a president that is not untying any of the strings that come with the federal mandates," Haley said.

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Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khefling

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Associated Press Writers Beth Fouhy in New York, Roger Schneider in Milwaukee, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville, Tenn., Christine Armario in Miami, Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev., Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La., Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala., Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., Josh Loftin in Salt Lake City, Utah, Geoff Mulvihill in New Brunswick, N.J., and Julie Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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