On the surface at least, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney see eye to eye on a number of key education issues:
Both politicians place great store in standardized testing to evaluate teacher performance and student progress, and both generally back former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. Both favor charter schools as an alternative to failing public schools and merit pay to attract better teachers. And both have had their run-ins with teachers unions.
Just recently, the former Michigan governor agreed with Obama that Congress should spend an additional $6 billion this year to block a scheduled doubling of the interest rate on millions of federal college loans. Addressing the problem of mounting college debt has become a political rallying cry across the country.
Yet on critical issues of funding and government aide to colleges and local schools, the two rivals couldn’t be further apart, and some experts say those are the most telling and significant differences between the wo rivals. Romney insists that the Department of Education has grown too big and intrusive on state and local officials, and has pledged to either sharply downsize it or merge it with another federal agency.
“From what I see the basic difference between the two is that Romney wants to do less in education and Obama wants to do more,” said Jack Jennings, an education expert and founder of the Center on Education Policy. “Throughout the primary campaign, Romney was very critical of federal aid and said he thought the federal government should basically reduce its presence in education.” The philosophical gulf between Obama and Romney on federal spending for education is wide. Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan calls for maintaining the maximum Pell Grants award, increasing the Perkins Loan Program, providing needed support for community colleges to meet the needs of local and regional job markets, and boosting teacher education programs at institutions that serve minorities.
The proposed budget includes $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 schools and $30 billion to help states and localities retain and hire first responders and educators. Moreover, as part of his economic stimulus package shortly after taking office, the president included $100 billion that saved tens of thousands of teachers’ jobs.