A Vision for Our Children

How the 2012 Presidential Hopefuls View Education
Originally published in the summer 2011 edition of The Leader

As November 2012 approaches, multiple presidential hopefuls have thrown their hats into the ring. Although no Democrats have come forth to challenge President Obama, eight Republicans have formally announced their run for office.

In three years, President Obama has worked to revive the nation’s education system by passing multiple acts that invest in education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which President Obama signed into law in 2009, allots billions of dollars to education, including $3.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund.

According to details provided by the White House, the ARRA invests $5 billion into early learning programs and $77 billion for reforms to strengthen elementary and secondary education. This also includes $48.6 billion to be used to support state education budgets. Additionally, the ARRA allots $30 billion to help make college more affordable and accessible and provides $5 billion in “competitive funds to spur innovation and chart ambition reform to close the achievement gap.”

The President also passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act in 2010 that invests in higher education by creating more stable funding for Pell Grants and allotting $2 billion to community colleges. Additionally, this act provides $2.55 billion in mandatory funding toward minority-serving institutions and creates initiatives that help relieve students of their student loans.

President Obama also launched a host of programs and campaigns to encourage student learning and achievement. The “Educate to Innovate” campaign focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, and the Race To The Top Commencement Challenge allows public high schools to showcase how they best prepare students for college. The winning school gets President Obama as their commencement speakers.

The President has expressed his commitment to bettering the nation’s education system, and set a goal that by 2020, the U.S. will again have the highest proportion of students graduating college in the world. He has also said he is committed to reforming the nation’s public schools, and supports the expansion of high-quality charter schools.

The Republicans who are running for president have also outlined their education goals, and with the first primaries starting in six months, debates about the future of our education system will allow the nation to get a preview of what could be.

As a representative from Minnesota’s 6th District, Michele Bachmann has been a very outspoken supporter of teaching intelligent design in school. She thinks educators should not “censor information out of discussion because it doesn’t meet within someone’s dogmatic beliefs.” When Bachmann was a state legislature, she was an author of a bill that would require intelligent design to be included in the science curriculum.

Bachmann thinks that while No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was well intended, it has created an environment of “teaching to the test,” which is why she was a co-sponsor of H.R. 1539, the A-Plus Act. The bill would allow each state to submit to the secretary of education a declaration of intent to receive federal funds on a consolidated basis. However, with regard to Minnesota schools, Bachmann thinks federal funding leads to federal control and that NCLB cannot be tailored to local educational programs. Because of this, Bachmann thinks NCLB must be repealed and education must return to the local level.

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, thinks students should be at the heart of education and they always should be “put before union interests.” Cain said he thinks the current administration has shifted away from focusing on students to maintaining an excessive level of bureaucracy through expanded unionization and regulation. Cain wants to decentralize education and give control to local and state levels while expanding school vouchers and charter schools.

In an interview in Nevada, Cain said he wants to cut or end all programs that contain unfunded mandates like NCLB. When asked about the Department of Education, Cain said he would reduce the size of the department dramatically.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich thinks home-schooled children should have the same educational opportunities as any public school student and teachers should have the right to use historical examples that involve religion in their classrooms. Gingrich has said modern, bureaucratic, unionized education is a form of intellectual child abuse.

As a former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman rarely has brought up education policy. Once asked about which federal department he would cut if president, Huntsman answered he would cut the Department of Education. “I’m still trying to figure out what the Department of Education does,” he said.

Ron Paul, a representative from the 14th District of Texas, thinks parents should be in control of education and that education is a privilege, not a right. During an interview on “Meet the Press,” Paul said he wants to reverse the trend of increasing the size of the Department of Education. When Paul ran in 2008 for president, he said the federal government is the largest obstacle for improving education. He said Americans should look to local resources for help and encourages Americans to home school their children.

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, thinks the American education system has failed many children and politicians have done very little to change that. Referencing his time as governor, Pawlenty said the teachers’ unions blocked his administration at every turn. Pawlenty also said when he was governor, he created the nation’s first statewide performance-pay program. Pawlenty is in favor of teaching creationism in classrooms, and has stated that students need more options in education, such as charter schools and home schooling.

Mitt Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts who thinks the government must cut spending and end wasteful programs. Romney sees the Department of Education as a way to hold down the interests of teachers’ unions in order to put children first. From Romney’s perspective, the unions are the biggest obstacle to changing education.

Rick Santorum is a former senator from Pennsylvania who voted in favor of NCLB and a voucher program during his term. As a senator, Santorum pushed for his “Santorum Amendment,” which would include intelligent design in NCLB. Santorum has likened the current administration’s stance on education to one of an industrial factory. One of Santorum’s criticisms about public schools is that they emphasize uniformity instead of addressing individual strengths and weaknesses.

AFSA will be monitoring closely the debates and statements the presidential hopefuls make in the following months to stay ahead of the changes that could be coming to the nation’s education system.