November 6, 2012 will be here before you know it, and America will have to make a choice. Stick with President Obama for another four years, or hand the keys to the car over to Governor Romney. Of course, the presidency won’t be the only office up for grabs in November, but the presidential election will dominate the headlines as each man tries to make a case for himself, one for four more years, the other for a new direction.
For the education industry, this election will have a significant impact on how we go forward with efforts to improve student learning, control costs and prepare young people for higher education and careers. Now that Mitt Romney has released his education plan, let’s take a look at what each candidate aims to bring to the education table.
The Incumbent – President Barack Obama
In his first term, the president has spoken a lot about education funding and reform as one of his administration’s priorities. His calls for investment in education have come along with doubling investment in scholarships and financial aid, signing a new law meant to facilitate student payback of federal college loans. His administration has doubled funding for Pell Grants, cut the middlemen out of the college loan program and extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit designed to help families afford higher education.
Much of the ARRA stimulus funding has gone to school systems, which used that funding for all sorts of purpose – paying for teachers, funding construction programs and investing in educational technology among them. Earlier this year, the president gave No Child Left Behind waivers to 10 states, ostensibly to provide more local control and freedom from federal mandates. Meanwhile, the Race to the Top initiative has been the administration’s attempt to provide funding to high performing states.
President Obama has also touted his efforts around community colleges. It is the president’s contention that competitive grants can help spur positive reforms in the community college system. In February, the president announced an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund, meant to help spur new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train millions of workers.
We know that President Obama has his sights set on college affordability in his prospective second term, aiming to use campus-based financial aid programs as a carrot by rewarding colleges with low net prices and penalizing institutions with high net prices. His plan will also likely include finding ways to reform No Child Left behind and looking for avenues for getting whatever federal funding is available into the local school systems.
The Challenger – Mitt Romney
Romney’s plan around K-12 schools is to allow low income and special needs students to choose which school to attend, making Title I and IDEA funds portable. States would be required to adopt open-enrollment policies for students receiving Title I and IDEA funds, and to eliminate caps on charter and digital schools. The federal Charter School Program would be amended to provide funding to successful organizations so they can replicate their efforts. Romney would also expand the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Around the reformation of No Child Left Behind, federally mandated school interventions would be replaced with a requirement for states to create public report cards. As president, Governor Romney intends to consolidate federal teacher quality programs and offer block grants to states as a reward for policies that have a positive impact on teacher quality. Romney also thinks it is necessary to eliminate unnecessary certification requirements.
On the higher education side, the governor thinks the financial aid system should be strengthened and simplified. Some Education Department programs would be consolidated, and private sector participation in the student loan market would be expanded.
Romney also believes he can reduce regulations and foster innovation and competition. His plan claims that many regulations do nothing more that drive costs up. His plans for reform would replace those regulations and encourage new education models, tailoring federal regulations and aid rules to support educational models that favor measured competency instead of time to degree.
There you have it, Obama vs. Romney on education in a nutshell. Take your pick.