Who Is In Charge

Obama, Romney spar on education

In the first presidential debate Wednesday night, President Obama and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney immediately dove into an often neglected topic on the campaign trail: education.

Image of voter putting ballot in ballot box.The issue came up early and often, starting when both candidates mentioned education in their opening statements. Obama called for increased investment in public schools; Romney said the U.S. needs to have “the best schools in the world.”

Obama repeatedly hammered on the idea that he has supported education spending, while charging that Romney would reduce resources for schools in a quest to reduce the deficit. To emphasize his point, Obama told the story of a Las Vegas teacher who had 42 students in her classroom for the first two weeks of school and 10-year-old textbooks to teach them with.

“That is not a recipe for growth,” Obama said. “Budgets reflect choices. And if we’re asking for no revenue, that means we’ve got to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff. And the magnitude of the tax cuts that you’re talking about, Governor, would end up resulting in severe hardship for people, but more importantly would not help us grow.”

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Romney rejected Obama’s claim that he would cut education spending by 20 percent if elected – a figure extrapolated from his running mate Paul Ryan’s proposed budget – and decrease aid for college students. “I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college,” Romney said. “I’m not planning on making changes there.”

In the past, Romney has discussed making the U.S. Department of Education a “heck of a lot smaller,” although he has not specified what programs would be eliminated. During the debate, Romney called for getting rid of inefficient federal programs in all areas.

“I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?” he said. One item on the chopping block would be federal subsidies to PBS, even though Romney said he loves Big Bird and likes the debate’s moderator and PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer.

Obama countered that he has ended 18 educational programs that were “well-intentioned [but] weren’t helping kids learn.”

The impact of teacher layoffs also came up, as Obama suggested that Romney would preside over more reductions in the teaching force. Obama’s stimulus package saved or created 250,000 teaching jobs, but there still have been hundreds of thousands of teachers laid off during his administration. Obama proposed an additional $30 billion to save nearly 400,000 teacher jobs in 2011, but the bill never passed. “Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do,” Obama said. “That is an investment where the federal government can help. It can’t do it all, but it can make a difference.”

Romney disagreed with that characterization. “I love great schools,” he said, noting that when he was governor of Massachusetts the state had the highest-ranked school system in the country. “And the key to great schools, great teachers. So I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.”

One of the few ideas the candidates said they agreed on over the course of the night was Race to the Top, Obama’s signature education program that prompted 46 states to adopt education reforms in a competition for federal funds. The Democrats largely ignored the initiative at the Democratic National Convention, but Obama mentioned it three times during the debate.

Romney said he agreed with “some” of the ideas in Race to the Top. But he took the opportunity to promote his own school choice platform, which would allow federal funds to follow special needs and low-income students to the school of their choice, whether public or private. There is no guarantee, however, that a school would have to accept them.

Obama tried to paint Romney as out of touch when it came to education, though, particularly higher education.

“Governor Romney, I genuinely believe cares about education,” Obama said. “But when he tells a student that, you know, ‘you should borrow money from your parents to go to college,’ you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle … just don’t have that option.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”