The Republican Party and the Democratic Party have very strong differences that separate them, but they do agree about something: education is a very big deal.
Taking a look at what both parties’ platforms have to say on the subject, it is evident that they agree in that standards and accountability must be raised when it comes to American classrooms, for both the teachers and the students. Democrats even make some pretty big commitments, including making sure America has the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. However, the majority of other policies proposed are opposites.
Education at the federal level
Echoing a growing sentiment in the GOP, the Republican platform calls for “the repeal of numerous federal regulations which interfere with state and local control of public schools.”
“State and school districts are closer to schools than the federal government, but it is false that they always know better or will always act better,” said Jeremy Ayers, associate director of Federal Education Programs at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. He added that the federal government is very valuable due to the data it collects—namely when it comes to minorities and low-income in the public education system—and also because it serves as a watchdog, and strives to help those students in need of assistance.
While the Democrat platform states that it is important to help those schools which are struggling, the GOP’s platform says that the country has spent more than $10,000 for each student in the public education system every year, and money isn’t the answer anymore so spending should be cut.
“The Romney platform gives up on [struggling] schools and just wants to give vouchers to kids so that they can go to another school—including private schools—[and] use public funds for private schools or other schools in other districts,” Ayers told VOXXI.
Ayers said that the unfortunate thing about the voucher plan is that there is no guarantee that the kids could get into the other schools, which is “sort of a false promise.”
This plan is one of the most important items that the Republicans are pushing for—breaking up the majority of Title I money going to each school to have that money “follow” the students to the school of their choosing. The U.S. Department of Education created Title I in 1965 with the intent of distributing money to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.
Karen White, political director for the National Education Association, said that the association disagrees with this proposal.
“We believe we need to fund public schools, because they’re already underfunded,” she told VOXXI.
White said that the main difference between the two platforms was that Obama believes in giving students the best education regardless of their circumstance, while Romney thinks students should get the education they are able to afford.
The GOP is a big believer in “school choice,” meaning that they support the idea that students should be able to go to the school they desire, not necessarily schools in the districts where they live. That way, children are not “trapped in failing schools.”
“A young person’s ability to achieve in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, zip code or economic status,” the platform reads.
Another important difference comes with the topic of student loans. Republicans believe the federal government should have no business originating those loans, although it should serve as an insurance warrantor for those who offer loans to students.
A fact that will surprise few: in their platform, Democrats boast about taking on banks “to reform our student loan program, saving more than $60 billion by removing the banks acting as middlemen so we can better and more directly invest in students.”
Let’s talk about sex… or not
Meanwhile, when it comes to sex education, Republicans explicitly call for abstinence-only education, saying abstinence from sex “is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.” They also oppose any school clinics that provide counseling and other services that have to do with abortion and contraception.
The Democrats only have one thing to say about that: “Democrats support evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education.”
While the GOP commends “America’s great teachers,” the language at their recent convention in Tampa, Fla., says otherwise. During his remarks on education policy, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took aim at Obama, saying that he had to choose between helping the “politically-powerful unions” or help out the kids.
The Democratic Party’s platform says that “if we want high-quality education for all our kids, we must listen to the people who are on the front lines.”
White denies that the president has pandered to the teachers’ unions.
“That is absolutely not accurate,” she said. “The president has the same goals as every educator and every member of NEA which is to make sure that every student has access to a quality education at a great public school.”
Not everyone agrees. Washington think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation recently celebrated a Harvard University report saying that teachers’ unions were losing popularity.
“Education in the United States should not be controlled by special interests but rather focused on the needs of students and families,” wrote Rachel Sheffield, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation, in June. “That ‘unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere are standing on increasingly shaky ground,’ as Peterson states, means students are gaining stronger footing for a brighter academic future.”
Ayers said that the candidate that takes the White House in November should have three priorities in mind: get better teachers in the classrooms, turn around low-performing schools and fixing equity—making sure schools are funded fairly.
“Those three things are the three main issues that we at the Center for American Progress would say should be the priority for the next administration, regardless of whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican,” he said.
White said education is the way to push the economy forward.
“A good education is an economic necessity, and we’ve got to make sure that we continue to keep people working in this economy, we’ve got to continue to focus on funding for public education, we’ve got to continue to make sure that we offer students access to student loans to higher education,” White said. “That is the only way that they have an opportunity to achieve the American dream: through a quality education.”