Last night’s presidential debate included quite a few specifics on education policy from both President Obama and Governor Romney. President Obama’s call for more federal spending on education was no surprise. But his choice to highlight the Administration’s involvement in pushing states to adopt national standards and tests was remarkable.
The President stated that 46 states had raised their standards as a result of his policies, leaving no doubt that he was referring to the Common Core national standards push. To date, 46 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, incentivized with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds along with access to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers.
The President could have referenced a number of education policy changes during the debate, but it’s noteworthy that his push to nationalize standards and tests was at the top of his list. As Education Week notes:
And Obama, who doesn’t refer to Race to the Top much on the campaign stump, invoked his signature education-reform brand three times in the debate as having ‘prompted reforms in 46 states.’ (Clearly a reference to the common core, without naming the common-standards movement, which is a politically dicey thing for the federal government to support these days.)
Standards, assessment, curriculum, textbooks, and teacher training are the domain of local school districts and states—not the federal government. Washington’s 10 percent share in education financing, along with legal prohibitions against federal involvement in curriculum, clearly vests decisions about what will be taught in our nation’s schools with state and local leaders and parents.
National standards illustrate once more the degree to which the Obama Administration is intervening in this most quintessential of local school functions.
President Obama also urged more “investment” in education. This of course means more federal spending—a failing strategy that has cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 45 years and left America’s children no better off.
Governor Romney discussed his ideas for making Title I dollars (federal funding for low-income children) and IDEA funding (federal funding for special needs children) portable—effectively turning these large federal programs into a voucher system. At approximately $15 billion and $11 billion respectively, giving states control over how their share of Title I and IDEA funding is allocated would give them control over a significant amount of their federal education dollars.
As we have written before, Title I and IDEA funding portability is a laudable goal. To ensure the tenants of federalism are best reflected however, states should be allowed to make those funding streams portable. Better still would be reforms like A-PLUS—the conservative alternative to NCLB—that would give states control to direct their share of education funding for almost all federal programs that fall under NCLB in the way that best meets student needs. Portability would allow states with school choice plans to let federal dollars follow students to the school of their choice as well.
Governor Romney also stated that he does not plan to cut education funding. The Department of Education’s size and overreach needs to be addressed, something that can only be accomplished by cutting spending and programs at the agency.
The big education takeaways from last night: President Obama takes clear credit for the Common Core national standards push and wants to continue the education spending spree. Governor Romney proposes giving states and families control over their share of federal education dollars. Both talked at length about education policy during the debate, bringing some much-needed national attention to the issue.