Mitt Romney gave a powerful address Wednesday, promising a “very bold policy of change” on education. Among the items spelled out by the Republican nominee for president in his address to the Latino Coalition in Washington were a vow to “expand parental choice in an unprecedented way” and to expand the opportunity program of scholarships that has benefited children in Washington D.C.’s public schools until it was threatened by Senate Democrats and the Obama administration.
But in calling education “the civil rights issue of our era and our greatest challenge,” Romney has raised a fresh question that will impact on his party’s candidates for the House and Senate and on the platform that will be crafted at the Republican National Convention this summer: Namely, whether he will support abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, an issue that was contained in the national GOP platform from 1980 to 2000 and that many GOP office-seekers this year are calling for strongly.
In his 40-minute speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Romney did call for taking the scores of federal education programs and bloc-granting them to the states. This is a proposal that has long been popular with conservatives. But he stopped short of saying he would call for shutting down the 33-year-old Cabinet-level department, which was lobbied for by the National Education Association and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. Romney was cheered by a standing-room-only luncheon crowd after taking shots at teachers unions, citing them as “an example of a group that has lost its way” and blaming their financial support of the Democratic Party as the reason President Obama believes in ending scholarship programs that permit parents to send children to charter schools.
But talk of a “bold policy” and expansion of scholarship programs is sure to lead to questions from conservatives as to whether he can pursue this and shut down the Department of Education at the same time. Most GOP congressional candidates who spoke to Human Events offer that department as one of the first government agencies they would abolish to combat the federal deficit. In addition, members of the Republican platform committee at the national convention are almost certain to attempt to make the department’s abolition part of their formal message 12 years after it was removed — reportedly at the suggestion of 2000 GOP then-nominee George W. Bush.