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From kindergarten to college: The clear choice between Romney and President Obama on education

This post was updated on November 01, 2012.

A good education is an important part of building a strong and globally competitive economy. That’s why President Obama has made education a national priority. He’s helped spur nearly every state to adopt higher academic standards without any new federal mandates, is offering relief from unworkable, top-down No Child Left Behind mandates in exchange for local solutions to improve schools, and is proposing to cut the growth of tuition costs over the next decade, saving the typical student thousands of dollars a year.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are trying to convince students that they have an education plan. But a closer look at their records and budget plan reveals how they have, and would continue to, jeopardize the education and economic opportunities of millions of students.

When it comes to education, the contrast between President Obama and the Romney-Ryan ticket is clear:

K-12 education


  • Education funding: Romney has consistently opposed investment in education, declaring in 1994 that “we don’t need to spend more on education.” [Boston Globe, 10/12/94] In Romney’s first year as governor of Massachusetts, he cut nearly $250 million from K-12 education. His draconian budget cuts resulted in the layoff of 14,500 teachers, police officers, librarians, and others. Ryan voted against $10 billion in education funding for states to hire and retain teachers, and repeatedly voted to slash millions from the Head Start program. His budget could cut 200,000 children from that program in 2014 alone.

  • School improvement: By Romney’s second year as governor, Massachusetts schools saw the second largest percentage cuts in the nation, forcing school districts to cut staff, increase class sizes, and raise fees. In fact, Romney actively opposes efforts to reduce classes sizes—in his book, he called it “non-reform reform,” and even claimed it “may actually hurt education more than it helps.” Ryan repeatedly voted against helping schools reduce class sizes by hiring and training more teachers.

President Obama:

  • Education funding: The President implemented the Race to the Top program to spur reform in our schools without new federal mandates. For less than 1% of total education spending nationwide, 19 states received Race to the Top funding, benefiting 22 million students. Designed to encourage and reward states that close achievement gaps and improve high school graduation rates and college preparation, Race to the Top has shown it can be “a powerful spur to innovation in education.”

  • School improvement: The Obama administration offered states greater flexibility, and has already granted waivers to 34 states and the District of Columbia from No Child Left Behind as long as states show that “they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, develop meaningful teacher and principal evaluation systems, [and] reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.” The plan “strikes a new balance between the federal and state roles” in education.

Higher Education


  • Student loans: Romney and Ryan’s budget plan would have allowed student loan rates to double, costing students an average of $1,000. As a presidential candidate, Romney “has no specific plan to address student loans, according to his policy director.” Romney would also rollback student loan reform that would’ve saved taxpayers over $60 billion over 10 years and redirected savings back into higher education reducing the deficit.

  • College tuition: In Romney’s first year as Governor, he cut about $140 million from higher education, forcing state colleges to raise fees by 63% over his tenure to cover the deep budget cuts. By 2006, Massachusetts community colleges cost 59% more than the national average, while four-year public colleges cost 34% more. As a candidate, Romney’s only advice to students struggling to afford college was to “shop around” or “borrow money if you have to from your parents.” Ryan told a student that he should “work three jobs to pay for college.”

  • Student aid: Romney cut funding for scholarships and financial aid by 10% his first year, prompting a Massachusetts Higher Education Task Force to recommend a significant increase in need-based aid his last year. And now, the Romney-Ryan budget “would drastically cut federal student aid, causing roughly 1 million students to lose their Pell Grants.” Ryan also believes that “Pell Grants have become unsustainable,” and repeatedly voted to gut the program. If cuts were applied across the board, the Romney-Ryan budget would slash Pell Grants by an average of $1,000 for 9.6 million students come 2014. Over the next decade, over 1 million students would lose support altogether under his budget.

President Obama:

  • Student loans: The President understands the burden of student loans, having worked to pay off his own student debts. He capped income-based federal student loan repayments at 10% of discretionary income and fought to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling for over 7 million students.

  • College tuition: The President has proposed a plan that rewards states that put in place reforms to hold down higher education costs and shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep tuition prices down.

  • Student aid: President Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants, allowing nearly 4 million more students to get college aid, and created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $10,000 over four years of college.

Republican governors, including Gov. Chris Christie and former Gov. Jeb Bush, have praised President Obama’s efforts to reform and invest in education. Ultimately, the choice on education is stark. While the President prioritizes education, Romney and Ryan would prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy few over investments in our future.