President Barack Obama and GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney held their first of three debates last night, and while the debate focused on the nation’s economy and job creation, comments about education and job training bubbled up throughout the debate. Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS asked one question specifically on education policies.
Michael A. Resnick, the director of the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC), has examined Romney’s plan to give Title I and IDEA funds to students instead of schools. He estimates that an IDEA voucher would add up to $1,700 to 1,800 per child and Title I is much harder to determine because of the way it is distributed to schools and how those schools spend it, but it could be under $1,000 or as much as $2,000. He further noted that Romney’s plan would not likely spend any additional funds on K-12 programs. NSBAC, the 501c4 organization of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), has an analysis of the candidates’ education platforms and an election year message to the candidates on its website, www.nsbac.org.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) also has longstanding concerns about the Race to the Top program, the federal role in K-12 policy, and the inability of some school districts to compete for funds.
Following is a transcript of the most relevant portion of the debate. A full transcript can be found at the Washington Post website.
LEHRER: All right. Let’s go through some specifics in terms of what — how each of you views the role of government. How do — education. Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?
ROMNEY: Well, the primary responsibility for education is — is, of course, at the state and local level. But the federal government also can play a very important role. And I — and I agree with Secretary Arne Duncan, he’s — some ideas he’s put forward on Race to the Top, not all of them, but some of them I agree with and — and congratulate him for pursuing that. The federal government can get local and — and state schools to do a better job.
My own view, by the way, is I’ve added to that. I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I — these are disabled kids or — or — or poor kids or — or lower-income kids, rather, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice.
So all federal funds, instead of going to the — to the state or to the school district, I’d have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their — their — their student.
LEHRER: How do you see the federal government’s responsibility to, as I say, to improve the quality of public education in this country?
OBAMA: Well, as I’ve indicated, I think that it has a significant role to play. Through our Race to the Top program, we’ve worked with Republican and Democratic governors to
initiate major reforms, and they’re having an impact right now.
LEHRER: Do you think you have a difference with your views and — and those of Governor Romney on — about education and the federal government?
OBAMA: You know, this is where budgets matter, because budgets reflect choices. So when Governor Romney indicates that he wants to cut taxes and potentially benefit folks like me and him, and to pay for it we’re having to initiate significant cuts in federal support for education, that makes a difference.
You know, his — his running mate, Congressman Ryan, put forward a budget that reflects many of the principles that Governor Romney’s talked about. And it wasn’t very detailed. This seems to be a trend. But — but what it did do is to — if you extrapolated how much money we’re talking about, you’d look at cutting the education budget by up to 20 percent.
OBAMA: When it comes to community colleges, we are seeing great work done out there all over the country because we have the opportunity to train people for jobs that exist right now. And one of the things I suspect Governor Romney and I probably agree on is getting businesses to work with community colleges so that they’re setting up their training programs…
LEHRER: Do you — do you agree, Governor?
OBAMA: Let me just finish the point.
OBAMA: The — where they’re partnering so that they’re designing training programs. And people who are going through them know that there’s a job waiting for them if they complete it. That makes a big difference, but that requires some federal support.
Let me just say one final example. When it comes to making college affordable, whether it’s two-year or four-year, one of the things that I did as president was we were sending $60 billion to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, even though the loans were guaranteed. So there was no risk for the banks or the lenders, but they were taking billions out of the system.
And we said, “Why not cut out the middleman?” And as a consequence, what we’ve been able to do is to provide millions more students assistance, lower or keep low interest rates on student loans. And this is an example of where our priorities make a difference.
Governor Romney, I genuinely believe cares about education, but when he tells a student that, you know, “you should borrow money from your parents to go to college,” you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle, kids probably who attend University of Denver, just don’t have that option.
And for us to be able to make sure that they’ve got that opportunity and they can walk through that door, that is vitally important not just to those kids. It’s how we’re going to grow this economy over the long term.
LEHRER: We’re running out of time, gentlemen.
ROMNEY: Mr. President, Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. All right, I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and — and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on (inaudible) to grow. So I’m not planning on making changes there.
But you make a very good point, which is that the place you put your money just makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is. You put $90 billion into — into green jobs. And I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy. $90 billion, that would have — that would have hired 2 million teachers. $90 billion.
And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business. A number of them happened to be owned by people who were contributors to your campaigns.
Look, the right course for America’s government, we were talking about the role of government, is not to become the economic player, picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the health care system that has existed in this country for a long, long time and has produced the best health records in the world.
The right answer for government is say, How do we make the private sector become more efficient and more effective? How do we get schools to be more competitive? Let’s grade them. I propose we grade our schools so parents know which schools are succeeding and failing, so they can take their child to a — to a school that he’s being more successful.
I don’t want to cut our commitment to education. I wanted to make it more effective and efficient. And by the way, I’ve had that experience. I don’t just talk about it. I’ve been there. Massachusetts schools are ranked number one in the nation. This is not because I didn’t have commitment to education. It’s because I care about education for all of our kids.
Obama also made the following remark earlier in the debate during a session on the economy:
First, we’ve got to improve our education system and we’ve made enormous progress drawing on ideas both from Democrats and Republicans that are already starting to show gains in some of the toughest to deal with schools. We’ve got a program called Race to the Top that has prompted reforms in 46 states around the country, raising standards, improving how we train teachers.
So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers, and create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so that people can get trained for the jobs that are out there right now. And I want to make sure that we keep tuition low for our young people.