By Jay Mathews, Published: May 27
Poor Mitt Romney. He appoints a splendid group of education policy advisers, smart people with great ideas. Then he learns that he has to give a speech explaining how he differs from President Obama on schools when those same advisers have spent their careers making that nearly impossible.
The two major parties mostly agree on education policy. This has been true for a generation. This is good for schools, but during presidential campaigns it makes speech writers miserable. Here is an example from Romney’s education speech last week to the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit:
“Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers — these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.”That’s a nice sentence. The only flaw is that it sums up the views of the Obama administration pretty closely.
Instead the two parties pound each other with an education issue that makes them look tough to their most partisan supporters. That convenient weapon is vouchers, tax-supported scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. Obama has cut funds for a voucher program in the District so Romney embraces it. “I will be a model for parental choice programs across the nation,” he said in the speech.
The split doesn’t affect the bipartisan approach to schools much because vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far. There aren’t nearly enough available spaces in good private schools to meet the demand. Any significant growth in vouchers would lead to heavy government interference in private schools and kill any allegiance conservative Republicans had to it.