After the 2012 Election: Will Republicans Change Their Views on Education?
Before the 2012 election, a lot of Republican rhetoric surrounding education was heavily influenced by Tea Party and libertarian principles—emphasizing less spending and less federal government control. Many politicians called for reduced student aid at the federal level, a larger emphasis on for-profit education programs that are theoretically less expensive, and even the elimination of the Department of Education.
But Republican rhetoric on a lot of issues didn’t work very well in the 2012 election campaign—and many Republicans are calling for a new strategy in a variety of areas, including education.
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In a recent speech*, Eric Cantor pointed out that by 2020, there will be 1.5 million jobs that go empty because our college system does not produce the qualified graduates who can fill them. The Republican platform from August 2012** already calls for “new systems of learning” to “compete with traditional four-year colleges”—including community colleges, technical schools, accredited online colleges, and work-based programs in the private sector that are focused on a more vocational education than the traditional Liberal Arts degree provides.
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In addition, it’s possible that Republicans will emphasize reducing college costs in coming years over reducing federal spending on education. The August 2012 platform calls for an end to federal student aid—but wants the government to guarantee private student loans and ensure better transparency to help parents and students make better choices about education loans.
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“It is very tempting as a politician to say, ‘You know what, I will just give you some money. The government is just going to give you some money and pay back your loans for you,’” Mitt Romney said during a campaign stop in New Hampshire*** in response to a college student’s question about what measures he would take to reduce student debt.
“I’m not going to promise all sorts of free stuff that I know you’re going to end up paying for,” Romney went on. “What I want to do is give you a great job so you’ll be able to pay it back yourself. And I want to get the government off your back, so you can keep more of what you earned.”
Libertarian-minded people will probably agree with the second part of what Romney had to say. However, in the face of huge student debt and recent graduate unemployment, the first part of this message may be deemed a bit harsh by the majority of voters. It’s possible that Republicans will choose to focus instead on reducing tuition costs by providing low-cost college alternatives—such as those mentioned above—rather than eliminating federal student aid programs.
At the secondary school level, many Republicans are calling for an emphasis on school choice. As an alternative to the public school system, the Republican Party platform supports school choice initiatives as well as home schooling options for families who would rather keep their kids out of schools altogether. This message is expected to appeal in particular to low-income and minority voters, who are more likely to get stuck in less-desirable school districts.
The Growth and Opportunity Report****—a sort of post-disaster briefing on the 2012 election results—frequently recommended a change in messaging for Republicans going forward, over a change in actual policy. This may be a sign that many Republican leaders will try to emphasize different aspects of the same positions and principles they’ve held all along—rather than change their views on issues such as education.
Even so, toeing the Tea Party line on issues such as education funding can make the party sound cold and uncaring to students facing huge student debt bills and a difficult job market—and could add to the party’s difficulty in attracting younger voters.
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