Rep. Michele Bachmann may have stepped aside last week in Iowa, but at least in terms of education her beliefs continue to be well represented among the remaining GOP candidates. Indeed, if her departure from the field left any vacuum at all, it’s been filled neatly by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
All three current front-runners favor limiting the federal government’s role in education, but beyond that there are significant differences in their platforms. A few quick observations then, starting with Santorum, who is no fan of public schools.
“Just call them what they are,” he is quoted as saying in a Politico story last March. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”
Santorum is a proponent of both home schooling and private-school vouchers. He would fund abstinence-only education.
He’s particularly opposed to publicly funded early-childhood education, which he refers to as “government indoctrination.”
“Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can,” he told the Des Moines Register last summer. “That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be.”
Santorum favors teaching of intelligent design
While in the Senate, Santorum voted for No Child Left Behind, but attempted to insert a provision including the teaching of intelligent design in schools. He continues to favor this.
Even though Santroum’s own seven children were mostly home-schooled, he’s not entirely opposed to taking advantage of taxpayer-funded education. After his election to the Senate in 1994, Santorum moved his family to a house in Virginia, while relatives moved into his Pennsylvania home.
In 2001, he enrolled his kids in the online Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which offers free computers and internet connections to students. The total cost to his former Pennsylvania district, the tiny Penn Hills: $38,000 a year.
When Democrats challenged the Santorums’ Pennsylvania residency in 2004, the family withdrew the kids from the school. The Penn Hills School Board attempted to get the family to reimburse it $100,000 in tuition.
The family did not repay the district, which ended up settling with the state for $55,000.
Paul favors abolition of student loan programs
Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s short, focused platform is 110 percent anti-government. He favors the outright abolition of student loan programs and the U.S. Department of Education, which “has given us No Child Left Behind, massive unfunded mandates, indoctrination and in some cases, forced medication of our children with psychotropic drugs.”
He was one of only 41 members of Congress who voted against NCLB in 2001.
Paul favors a $5,000 tax credit for home-schoolers.
Stood next to Santorum and Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney starts to bear a distinct resemblance to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
During a 1994 Senate run, Romney opposed the U.S. Department of Education, but he has since come to endorse a federal role in education, which he calls a civil right. On the presidential campaign trail in 2008, he defended NCLB and continues to endorse standardized testing and assessment regimes.
Romney has supported merit pay for teachers
He has pushed for better science standards, merit pay for teachers and union contract reform. He was despised by Massachusetts’ teachers unions, who complained that he had a “closed-door policy.”
He opposed a moratorium of the expansion of charter schools in his state and supports vouchers. He believes the achievement gap will not be closed until the rate of out-of-wedlock births is reduced.
How will this play out going forward? Traditionally where education is concerned, Republicans need to appeal to an evangelical right base at the start of the race but a more moderate, mainstream conservative audience as the field narrows.
The Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog has a decent wrap-up on the GOP’s top three. If you’re interest in reading more, or aren’t ready to give up on Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry, Education Week offers a nice recap of the positions held by the entire field.