Romney Declares National Education Emergency

Mitt Romney has introduced his plan for overhauling education. At a speech to a Hispanic small business group Wednesday, the Republican presidential candidate outlined a blueprint that expands school choice for disabled and disadvantaged students, requires schools to provide regular reports on student progress and returns student loans to the private sector.

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Mitt Romney laid out his education agenda on Wednesday. In a speech in Washington, he compared the American public education system to that of a third world country. But Romney's plan to deal with what he called a national education emergency does not appear to be a major departure from the policies that have been in place since 2001, under both Presidents Bush and Obama. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney supported the Bush-era reforms. As candidate for president, Romney now says those reforms, known as No Child Left Behind, and President Obama's education policies, have resulted in further educational decline. Here's how Romney summed up his plan to stop that decline.

MITT ROMNEY: Dramatically expanding school choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers - these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.

ALEXANDER SANDY KRESS: It's pretty dramatic, I think, what he's proposed.

SANCHEZ: Sandy Kress, an advisor to President George W. Bush and one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, says he supports Romney's education agenda.

KRESS: I think what he's saying is I'd rather trust the parents of kids who are in need rather than the system that has a lot of adult interests and serves those interests over the interests of the kids.

SANCHEZ: Romney wants to redirect billions of dollars in federal aid for low income schoolchildren and put that money in the hands of parents for them to pay tuition at the public or private school of their choice. He wants report cards for parents to evaluate schools, and block grants, $4 billion worth, to raise teacher quality.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, one of the authors of No Child Left Behind, says Mr. Romney will have trouble faulting President Obama for building on the Bush era reforms. So if Romney's trying to catch the school reform train, he's a bit late.

REPRESENTATIVE GEORGE MILLER: You know, the train left the station almost two, three, four years ago, and this is the most robust school reform environment that I've seen in 30 years.

SANCHEZ: Even Romney's argument that President Obama's beholden to teachers unions will be a stretch, in large part because unions are no fans of the administration's support for charter school, merit pay, and evaluation schemes that tie teachers' performance to students' test results. Still, Mr. Romney's plan for K through 12 education is different than the president's plan in a basic way, says Andy Rotherham, a former advisor to the Obama administration.

ANDY ROTHERHAM: Romney is clearly much more comfortable with leaving this to the states and seeing what happens. The Obama administration is pursuing a much more robust role of using federal policy and federal dollars to try to encourage and incentivize change.

SANCHEZ: The biggest difference will be in how both men address the crisis in higher education. Romney wants to reverse the president's decision to remove private lenders from the federal student loan program. Robert Shireman was the one who came up with that idea.

ROBERT SHIREMAN: It looks like a return to the past, where banks will be making student loans with government subsidies, even though the banks are not taking any real risk.

SANCHEZ: What's less clear is whether education will be an issue that sways voters towards one candidate or the other. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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