Obama declines to support school choice in debate

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reiterated his support for school choice when asked about education reform during Wednesday night’s debate with President Obama.

“I want [kids] to be able to go to the school of their choice,” said Romney. “So all federal funds, instead of going 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 student.”

Obama faced a question about whether his views on education differed from Romney’s. But the president ignored school choice — a policy he has not favored — and instead attacked the former Massachusetts governor for proposing cuts to education funding.

“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,” he said.

Romney countered that he favored no such cuts.

Giving school choice the cold shoulder is a familiar move for Obama, who has consistently opposed letting parents choose where to send their kids to school, and sought to eliminate charter school programs in Washington, D.C. shortly after taking office.

It’s a position that increasingly puts him at odds with some prominent Democrats, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who chaired the Democratic National Convention this year, and Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washing D.C. schools.

Instead, Obama played to an important base: public school teachers.

“Let’s hire another 100,000 math and science teachers to make sure we maintain our technological lead and our people are skilled and able to succeed,” he said. “We’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years, and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.”

The president may have wanted to do damage control with teachers’ unions, just a few weeks after his friend and former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, fought a highly publicized battle with the Chicago Teachers Union over working conditions and salaries, leading to week-long strike. Turning out the union vote is a key component in his re-election strategy.

Romney said that he supported teachers, but wanted to leave staffing decisions up to local authorities.

“I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers,” he said. “Every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.”

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