The first presidential debate, a decisive and widely declared victory for Mitt Romney, contained a number of illuminating moments on education. While President Obama continued to openly display his authoritarian philosophy, Governor Romney showed the conflict in his camp and perhaps within himself personally between a strong limited government view and continued ineffective federal education spending. Both candidates spoke about the role of government in general and in education in particular.
There was absolutely nothing new in discussions about the role of government from President Obama. He continued his very statist approach saying (emphasis added):
But I also believe that government has the capacity, the federal government has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and to create frameworks where the American people can succeed...
All those things are designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination, is — is channeled and — and they have an opportunity to succeed. And everybody's getting a fair shot. And everybody's getting a fair share — everybody's doing a fair share, and everybody's playing by the same rules.
Barak Obama clearly has no internal understanding of the concept that the genius of America and its economic success is tied to liberty, that American success is greatest when the federal government is least involved. and that it is actually against the enumerated powers of the Constitution for government to "create ladders of opportunity" or to make sure "everybody's getting a fair share."
Mitt Romney on the other hand, gave a brilliant exposition on the role of government based on our Founding Principles. He clearly understands that our rights come from our creator, not from government, that it is individual responsibility that will breed success, and that these rights must be protected. He said (emphasis added):
The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.
First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America's military.
Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can't care for themselves are cared by — by one another...
But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we're seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it's not working.
This type of discussion of the very roots of our liberties has not been often enough done in general election campaigns and it is so refreshing to hear. It truly clarifies the difference in worldview between the two candidates: bigger government, statism, and dependence vs. limited government, liberty, and individual responsibility.
The president doubled down on his big government discussion when asked about education (emphasis added):
And when it comes to education what I've said is we've got to reform schools that are not working. We use something called Race to the Top. Wasn't a top-down approach, Governor. What we've said is to states, we'll give you more money if you initiate reforms. And as a consequence, you had 46 states around the country who have made a real difference.
He is actually bragging about using the resources of the federal government to bribe or blackmail, depending on one's point of view, 46 states to impose the Common Core national standards on their public schools outside the bounds of current federal law, congressional action or the Constitution. He then had the audacity to try to get the audience to believe that it "wasn't a top-down approach."
Governor Romney's education remarks although acknowledging that education has traditionally been a state and federal function, were not nearly as small government in tone, as he went on to discuss his view of the, too large in our opinion, role of the federal government and his federal private school choice plan which we detailed in our last alert. (Emphasis added.)
Well, the primary responsibility for education is — is, of course, at the state and local level. But the federal government also can play a very important role. And I — and I agree with Secretary Arne Duncan, he's — some ideas he's put forward on Race to the Top, not all of them, but some of them I agree with and — and congratulate him for pursuing that. The federal government can get local and — and state schools to do a better job.
My own view, by the way, is I've added to that. I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I — these are disabled kids or — or — or poor kids or — or lower-income kids, rather, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice.
So all federal funds, instead of going to the — to the state or to the school district, I'd have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their — their — their student.
This federal school choice plan was a key part of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind proposals, but was not adopted. As we stated, while it is noble to try to help children flee failing public schools, having the federal government set the standards of doing that as was done in both the Bush plan and is done in the Romney plan is fraught with dangers for the autonomy of the private schools and preserving them as a meaningful alternative to the public schools. Other conservative groups agreed then and agree now.
The other important issue that was discussed was federal education funding. The president criticized Governor Romney for supporting the Ryan budget plan that he maintains will cut domestic funding including education funding. In response, Mr. Romney said (Emphasis added):
Mr. President, Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. All right, I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and — and grants that go to people going to college. I'm planning on (inaudible) to grow. So I'm not planning on making changes there.
Sadly, Governor Romney when accused of cutting education funding "for the children" spoke as far too many supposedly conservative politicians have done and backed away from a meaningful discussion of both the lack of effectiveness and constitutionality of federal education programs and the strangling regulations in the setting of crushing deficits. If he cannot speak of eliminating or at least cutting unconstitutional, ineffective, harmful and expensive programs in the setting of a $16 trillion deficit, when will it happen?
Education is on what page of the US Constitution?
In contrast to these more federal-centric remarks, small government education advocates were really encouraged to see the influence of Anti-Common Core crusader Bill Evers of the Hoover Institute on Governor Romney when he said at Education Nation, a forum on education sponsored by NBC on September 25th, that he did not support a federal curriculum and that he thought the federal government should not pay for the Common Core standards implementation (emphasis added):
ROMNEY: You know, I think it's fine for people to lay out what they think core subjects might be and to suggest a pedagogy and being able to provide that learning to our kids. I don't subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states.
It's one thing to put it out as a model and let people adopt it as they will, but to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government's idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake. And the reason I say that is that there may be a time when the government has an agenda that it wants to promote.
And I'm not wild about the federal government having some kind of agenda that it then compensates states to teach their kids. I'd rather let education and what is taught state by state be determined state by state, not by the federal government.
The contrast between these two sets of Romney remarks indicates a significant tug of war on education within the Republican Party between those favoring freedom, smaller government, local control and academic excellence versus the corporatist, establishment, big government, federal curriculum crowd pushing the Common Core national standards and its attendant loss of freedom for private and potentially, home school students
The big business, big government conservative side is exemplified by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and his significant prominence on the Romney education team as he:
- Fought to stop ALEC's efforts to develop model anti-Common Core legislation;
- Put his fingerprints all over the Romney education plan that would impose the Common Core standards on private schools by requiring public school testing "accountability" for private school students receiving federal vouchers. This idea received a D on our school choice freedom rating scale;
- Tried to make gullible reporters and policymakers believe that down is up when, despite all of the evidence, he said "I don't think it's coercive [the Common Core]" at the Republican national convention.
The big government Republicans also seemed to hold sway during platform discussions at the Republican National Convention. There was no effort to specifically call out the Common Core Standards for opposition. And, despite some lip service of "repeal[ing] numerous federal regulations," the plank to abolish the Department of Education was removed from the platform again, despite receiving over one million activist votes in the Freedom Works Tea Party grassroots efforts.
Make no mistake, compared to the "trickle-down government" of the president's education policies, Mitt Romney's ideas are a significant improvement. However, if Governor Romney wins the presidency, freedom minded advocates will have their work cut out to fan the flames of liberty evident in his opposition to the Common Core before they are doused by the big government establishment Republican crowd that seems to be trying to steer Mr. Romney in a more centralized direction.