Romney: “I will expand parental choice in an unprecedented way”

Mitt Romney is all in on school choice, at least according to the speech he delivered today at the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit. Here’s a piece of his prepared remarks:

First, I will expand parental choice in an unprecedented way. Too many of our kids are trapped in schools that are failing or simply don’t meet their needs.  And for too long, we’ve merely talked about the virtues of school choice.

As President, I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school.  For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted.  And I will make that choice meaningful by ensuring there are sufficient options to exercise it.

To receive the full complement of federal education dollars, states must provide students with ample school choice.  In addition, digital learning options must not be prohibited.  And charter schools or similar education choices must be scaled up to meet student demand.

Instead of eliminating the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as President Obama has proposed, I will expand it to offer more students a chance to attend a better school.  It will be a model for parental choice programs across the nation.

Romney came back to the D.C. program later in the speech. He used it as one of several examples where teachers unions blocked school choice programs and proposals.

Education is one issue where it should be easy to find common purpose and common solutions.  And I believe the President must be troubled by the lack of progress since he took office.  Most likely, he would have liked to do more.  But the teachers unions are one of the Democrats’ biggest donors – and one of the President’s biggest campaign supporters.  So, President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses – and unwilling to stand up for kids.     

The most recent example is the Opportunity Scholarship program.  Since 2004, it’s allowed thousands of children in the District of Columbia to escape one of the worst school systems in the nation and get a world-class education.  Armed with scholarships of up to $7,500, students enrolled in private schools. 99% of them were African American or Hispanic.

After three months, students could already read at levels 19 months ahead of their public-school peers.  And parents were happy; for every spot in the program, there were 4 applications.

Then, Senator Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, inserted a provision to end the program.  The White House offered no resistance.  In fact, the President has proposed ending all funding for Opportunity Scholarships.  It must have gone against his better instincts, but the unions wanted it so he went along.

In the Opportunity Scholarships, the Democrats finally found the one federal program they are willing to cut. Why?  Because success anywhere in our public schools is a rebuke to failure everywhere else.  That’s why the unions oppose even the most common sense improvements.

In Detroit, students in the city’s failing public schools were offered a lifeline by a philanthropist who offered $200 million to create 15 charter schools.  The teachers union made the state legislature turn that gift down.

In Connecticut, parents groups tried to pass “parent trigger” legislation so they could take over and transform failing schools.  A national teachers union moved fast to stop that.

Now some union leaders will tell you that their objections are misunderstood.  They’ll argue the issues are complicated.  But really it’s simple – and it comes down to this:  When your cause in life is preventing parents from having a meaningful choice or children from having a real chance, then you are on the wrong side.  You might even be in the wrong vocation, because good teachers put the interests of children first.

Full text of Romney’s prepared remarks here.

Some of the immediate reaction and coverage here:

From Democrats for Education Reform:  Long on rhetoric and short on specifics, Romney made school choice, including letting parents use public funds to pay for private school tuition, a central part of his speech. He put much less emphasis, however, on making absolutely sure that a child gets a good education wherever he or she happens to go to school. “The type of schools that get federal funding aren’t as important to us as what that federal funding is used for,” said DFER Executive Director Joe Williams. “This has, and always should be, about equity and ensuring quality.”

From Bloomberg News: Mitt Romney proposed a series of steps to overhaul the public education system, reigniting the debate over school choice as his campaign intensifies its effort to introduce the Republican nominee to a general-election audience. The proposal, unveiled in a speech today in Washington, would create a voucher-like system to give low-income and disabled students federal funds to attend charter schools, private institutions and public schools outside their district.

From National Journal: In delivering his remarks to the Latino group, Romney dropped a reference to private schools being covered by his school-choice policy, which had been included in speech excerpts distributed by the campaign moments before he started talking at noon today. But his campaign aides told reporters after the speech that he inadventently left out the private-school reference, and that private and parochial schools would be included in the school-choice policy. Also, in a conference call with reporters earlier on Wednesday, Romney campaign staff said the policy would cover private and parochial schools.

From Education Week: Presumptive GOP nominee Gov. Mitt Romney called today for making federal funding for special education and disadvantaged students portable—meaning the money would follow students to any school their parents choose, including a private school. Under his proposal, parents could also choose to use the funds under Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at a charter school for online courses, or for tutoring. Title I is funded at $14.5 billion this year, and IDEA is funded at $11.6 billion.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

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