Perhaps unsurprisingly, Romney is a strong advocate for school choice, including a plan to allow students with disabilities and disadvantaged students to choose any school, including private school, and have federal Title 1 and special education funding follow them there. Several states have passed voucher expansions in recent years, bills typically supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
The voucher issue seems to be the only major difference between Romney’s and Obama’s school choice stances. Romney attacked the Obama administration for not challenging teachers’ unions and for not being stronger about teacher accountability, but, as some of my colleagues point out, he seems to be attacking Obama for not doing things that he clearly has done.
Obama’s support of School Improvement Grants, charter schools, and using standardized testing in teacher and student evaluations has angered many unions. Those expecting a dramatic shift to the “privatization” of public schools under Romney probably won’t get it, at least in K-12.
As Rick Hess points out on his Education Week blog, Romney pushing for lifting charter school caps, virtual education, and school choice is Romney pushing for things that are already happening. And in education, Hess writes, it’s difficult for a presidential candidate to attack federal overreach, as Romney did with Obama, when executing any policy requires some level of federal overreach.
“Romney’s proposal to require states to lift charter caps, embrace open-enrollment, and adopt expansive approaches to virtual schooling in order to qualify for federal aid is practically Obamaesque as far as expanding the federal reach when it comes to state education policy,” Hess wrote.
Michael Petrilli, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, had a similar take at Education Next. (A consensus among conservative-minded writers around the web seems to be, “Good start. Needs work.”)
On higher education, Romney challenged Obama’s scrapping of the Federal Family Education Loan Program and decision to filter all student loans through the U.S. Department of Education.
“We welcome the private sector participating instead of pushing it away,” Oren Cass, Romney’s domestic policy director, told reporters.
Earlier in the week, Romney announced his team of education policy advisers. The list is full of names from the private sector and officials tasked with technology and innovation in past education departments.
Absent from the list is former education secretary under George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings, who, according to my colleague Alyson Klein, dropped out of the campaign, possibly over Romney’s distance from No Child Left Behind.