Romney and Obama tussle on education

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So let the games begin. Finally, the presidential candidates may get to education. For the greater part of a month, the presidential candidates have been sizing each other up, jabbing each other on jobs and the economy, who’s more in touch with the average voter, and all sorts of distractions like who is waging that war on women and whether the president should play politics with foreign policy (as if that’s anything new).

Given that education is a key factor affecting the country’s ability to create jobs–and that it is one of the key sectors of public employment–you would have thought that education would have made the dance card a little earlier in the process. But no.

Finally, we have engagement. Earlier today, Governor Romney “blasted” President Obama for the latter’s opposition to Washington D.C.’s 10-year-old opportunity scholarship program. As the Washington Times‘ Stephen Dinan notes,

Mitt Romney on Wednesday said it was “inexcusable” that President Obama tried to shut down the … voucher program that has sent thousands of the city’s students to private schools.

“The president shut that down. His party shut that down,” Mr. Romney said while campaigning at a small business in Chantilly, Va.

As Dinan further notes, despite broad popular support among DC parents, Mr. Obama has repeatedly

tried to end the program when he took office. In a compromise, he agreed to let students already in the program continue, but he ended funding for new applications.

When Republicans took control of the House last year, Speaker John A. Boehner fought to restart the program and included funding in the first yearlong spending bill Mr. Obama signed.

But the program remains in limbo, and Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget, submitted in January, doesn’t include any money for it.

Education may prove a tricky issue for Romney, who ironically oversaw the Commonwealth’s surge to become the top performing state in the nation. President Obama has a clear set of priorities, including nationalizing education standards, tests and curricula; controlled choice through modest expansion of charter schools; and teacher evaluations. Mr. Romney’s views are not fully public, though from his time in office in Massachusetts, we can glean lessons about what he will be on schools and learning.

During his time here, he supported strong academic standards that reached beyond math and English to include science and U.S. History, as well as the expansion of charter schools. Messaging will be made a little more difficult, because presidential elections are often about clear messaging, and Mr. Romney has in the past made supportive statement about elements of the President’s education plans.

Just what are the differences? Clearly parental choice that extends to private schools is one. I’ll be posting a few items on how their positions diverge over the coming week. The big message today is, perhaps, finally we will see the candidates engage on the critical issue of how we move the states and the country forward.

Crossposted at’s Rock the Schoolhouse. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.