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2012 GOP Candidates: Their Positions on Education

Oct 7, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

There are a few key similarities between most of the members of the GOP presidential field in 2012. Reducing spending is key, with numerous calls to reduce or eliminate the Department of Education entirely. You won’t find much support in this field for federal student aid; some believe it should be reduced, while others call for student aid to be given only at the state level.

Surprisingly, you will find strong support for online education among 2012’s crop of presidential candidates.

Several have a record of issuing challenges to state education systems to begin relying on online education as a way to reduce costs, boost efficiency, decrease dependence on state and federal funding, and bring college curriculums more in line with the market’s needs. Here’s an overview of the positions held by 2012 GOP candidates on public and higher education.

Rick Perry

Flad and Elephant


Rick Perry called for eliminating the Department of Education recently after announcing his candidacy for President. As Governor of Texas, Perry urged university deans in the state to implement the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” suggested by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. These include measuring teacher effectiveness and reward high-performing instructors; evenly splitting teaching and research budgets; connecting tenure to classroom performance; more transparency for students regarding potential graduate earnings, class size, and graduation rates; give state funding to students rather than schools; and creation of a results-based accreditation body.

In addition, Perry is a big supporter of online education. In his 2011 State of the State address, Perry issued a challenge to public colleges to create a Bachelor’s program that cost only $10,000 in tuition using online learning technology.

Tim Pawlenty

On a recent appearance on the Daily Show, Tim Pawlenty expressed strong support for online education as a way to reduce federal spending on education aid. “Instead of paying thousands of dollars, can I pay $199 for iCollege instead of $.99 for iTunes?” he asked. In 2008, he issued a challenge to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to raise the number of online course credits awarded to 25% by 2015. He believes that traditional higher education is extremely inefficient—and online education is the solution.

Gary Johnson

The New Mexico governor has proven himself to be a strong supporter of school vouchers, charter schools, and competition between public schools. He has also called for eliminating the Department of Education and funding for schools and student aid at the federal level.

Thad McCotter

Michigan congressman Thad McCotter has demonstrated his belief that the federal government should not have a role in funding education, voting “No” on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act and the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act during his tenure. He also voted down a program providing additional federal support to colleges and universities that serve primarily minority students.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann has pledged to eliminate the Department of Education, and has stated that she believes the federal government has no established role in education in the United States as dictated by the Constitution. In a town hall meeting in South Carolina, she stated that the Constitution does not specifically grant the federal government any leadership role in education, and that historically, control over education was administered on the local and state level. She has also stated that although it’s commonly accepted that children have a right to an “equal education,” even that right is up for debate.

John Huntsman, Jr

Utah governor John Huntsman has stated his support for school vouchers, school choice, and competition. He’s also taken steps in the past to be sure state priorities came before federal requirements in the state. As governor, he signed legislation allowing Utah schools to circumvent parts of No Child Left Behind, as well as HB 1001, which places state education requirements above federal NCLB requirements. In 2005, Utah passed legislation creating a sweeping statewide school voucher program, although it was overturned by ballot referendum.

At the postsecondary level, Huntsman created the Utah College of Applied Technology, designed to respond to industry and business training and education needs. It’s possible that Huntsman would strongly support more vocational training programs at the federal level.

Newt Gingrich

As a former professor, Gingrich believes that colleges need to be more efficient in an effort to reduce tuition—with less focus on the humanities and more on skills businesses and industries are looking for. He supports waiving student loan interest for math and science majors, as well as charter schools run by community colleges to support more school choice for low-income students and those in failing school districts. He is a strong supporter of school vouchers and prayer in public schools.

Mitt Romney

As Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney has historically supported No Child Left Behind. He is in favor of accountability through standardized testing—and proposed a program full scholarships at Massachusetts colleges for the top 25% in standardized test scores. In 2007, he expressed support for merit-based scholarships on a national level. More recently, however, he has expressed more support for instituting programs that help families save for college—such as making savings interest, capital gains and dividends tax-free—rather than focusing on federal loan and scholarship aid for college students.

Rick Santorum

Santorum has stated his support for reducing federal government aid to college students, leaving tuition support programs to the states. He stated this position at a campaign speech at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, also adding that he believes that colleges should forge partnerships with local businesses to ensure graduates are prepared for the job market.

Herman Cain

Businessman Herman Cain believes that education is best administered and funded at the state level. He supports a slow “unbundling” of education by shifting the responsibility for funding to the states over time, dramatically reducing the size of the Department of Education. He does, however, support performance incentives for teachers and accountability through standardized testing.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul has strong libertarian views that extend to education. He believes that the Department of Education should be eliminated entirely—and education should be administered at the state and local level, and paid for by individual parents and students.

When it comes to federal student aid for college, he made his position clear in a 2011 interview with MSNBC's Cenk Uygur. When asked if the government should give low-interest loans to students who can’t afford tuition, Paul stated “No one has a right to anyone's wealth. I don't have a right to come to you and say my poor kid needs 500 dollars for an education. An education is not a right."


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