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Does Mitt Romney Have an Education Platform?

Beyond breaking the unions, what kind of education policy can we expect from a Romney presidency?

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But even if Saltman and Bulkley are right that Romney’s performance in Massachusetts vis a vis education has limited relevance to his potential presidency, his general attitudes about education policy during the 2003-2007 governorship are still worth noting. According to Paul Toner, current president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA), Romney’s education record was decidedly unimpressive. “Romney cut education funding deeply while he was governor,” Toner notes. “In 2003 and 2004, Massachusetts cut spending on K-12 education more than any other state. He also slashed funding for public higher education by a quarter during those years.” 

Overall, Toner says, “he accomplished little in the education arena while he was governor…though he made a series of distracting proposals that never passed, such as seeking to require low-income parents to attend parenting classes if they wanted their children to be enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs.” The cuts were drastic, and the political moves – like trying to force parents to attend parenting classes – helped mask the fact that there was relatively little substance to his education policy. 

Labor: What About the Unions?  

Perhaps the most important insight to be gained from Romney’s record in Massachusetts has to do with his treatment of teachers' unions. In fact, his relationships with Massachusetts teachers' unions were remarkably consistent with his current campaign rhetoric. As Toner explains, “Romney had a closed door policy when it came to meeting with the MTA and nearly all the other organizations representing teachers and administrators. He took guidance on education policy from people with agendas that did not serve students and public education, not from educators.” In other words, Romney was far more interested in hearing from business and industry leaders than from educators themselves. 

For Toner it was clear that, “Romney was extremely anti-union.” He recalls a Boston Globe reporter calling the Massachusetts Teacher Association in late 2004 for comments on a statement Romney had just made at an editorial board meeting. According to Toner, Romney had said, “We should put together all the [education] stakeholders at the table, but not the unions. Individual teachers, yes, but not the unions.” 

And true to form, the unions were largely excluded by Romney’s administration. Toner characterizes the Romney administration as both, “secretive and exclusive. For example, when he held press conferences on education issues, he barred representatives from the MTA and other education organizations, such as [the] Massachusetts Association of School Committees, from being in the room. We had to wait out in the hallway and then piece together what had been said in order to formulate a response.” 

Toner points out that this “anti-unionism ran so deep, [Romney] made the absurd and unsubstantiated claim that ‘the gap in test scores between minority and white students would close when minority leaders realize their long political alliance with teachers’ unions isn’t serving black and Hispanic students’” to the Associated Press in 2006. It’s crafty rhetoric – except that the very state Romney was governor of disproved that logic. As Toner points out, it is a “ well-documented fact that minority students’ test scores are significantly above the national average in Massachusetts – a highly unionized state.” 

Whatever flip-flopping Romney can be accused of doing on social issues ranging from abortion to LGBT rights, his hostility to the teachers' unions has never wavered – and he’s continuing to hold strong. Just a few days ago, Romney made comments at a fundraiser that were captured by MSNBC. In them, he reconfirmed his plans to dramatically diminish the scope of the US Department of Education except for use as a tool for union-busting. It is no wonder the NEA and AFT have come out so strongly against his campaign.