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Teachers Unions, Federal Spending Slammed at GOP Convention

By Mark Bomster — August 29, 2012 3 min read
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Tampa, Fla.

The Republicans offered up a lot of tough talk Tuesday night—including battering President Barack Obama and teachers unions—as they hailed Mitt Romney as their newly nominated candidate for president.

By far the sharpest attacks in a long night of speeches at the Republican National Convention came from Gov. Chris Christie, of New Jersey, whose fire-breathing keynote speech attacked the educational establishment, especially teachers unions.

Christie said that in New Jersey, he defied naysayers by successfully taking on “the third rail of politics” to overhaul the public employee health and benefit system in his state. He put the projected savings to taxpayers at $132 billion over 30 years.

President Barack Obama’s Truth Team quickly disputed that statement.

As for overhauling teacher tenure, Christie said teachers unions were “just too powerful. Real teacher tenure reform that demands accountability and ends the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance would never happen. For the first time in 100 years with bipartisan support, we did it.”

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fired back at Christie on Twitter.

“Christie evidently believes teachers should be seen but not heard—they may be important, but not their views about what they need to help kids,” she wrote.

Jennifer Beck, a New Jersey state senator, gave Christie high marks for being able to sell many of his reforms to lawmakers across the aisle.

Despite the harsh criticism of Democrats, Christie has been able to work with many in the legislature, Beck said. “The bill he just signed on tenure reforms [K-12] in a very significant way,” she said.

Christie went on to use the teachers-union battle as part of a litany of contrasts between his view of Democratic and Republican leadership. Here’s a particularly potent portion of his speech:

We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete," he said of Republicans. "Teachers don't teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children. We believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what's best for our nation's future—demanding accountability, demanding higher standards and demanding the best teacher in every classroom in America.They [Dems] ... believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children. They believe in teacher's unions. We believe in teachers."

Common Core Criticized

Earlier in the evening, the man who has probably done more than anyone in the GOP to rankle teachers’ unions also got an enormous embrace from the crowd. Gov. Scott Walker, of Wisconsin survived a recall vote on June 5 prompted by his push last year the scale back the collective-bargaining rights of public employees in that state, including teachers.

He hammered on that theme from the convention stage Tuesday night, saying Wisconsin voters “got to determine who was in charge—was it the big government special interests in Washington ... or the hard-working taxpayers of our state. The good news is that ... the hard-working taxpayers won.”

Some other pointed remarks came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was among Republican-nominee Romney’s one-time rivals for the GOP presidential nomination. In an at-times personal speech, Santorum placed education as a key part of the formula for staying out of poverty, along with hard work and getting married before having children.

“A solid education should be [a key rung] on the ladder to success, but the system is failing. Obama’s solution has been to deny parents choice, attack private schools, and nationalize curriculum and student loans,” he said, taking an apparent dig at the Common Core State Standards, which are not an initiative of the federal government, but have been embraced by the federal Department of Education. “Mitt Romney believes that parents and the local community must be put in charge—not the Department of Education.”

Sunnier Speech

The emotional centerpiece of the four-hour program of speeches was first-lady hopeful Ann Romney. She delivered a personal tribute to her husband’s leadership qualities, including praise of his education record as governor of Massachusetts.

“Under Mitt, Massachusetts schools were the best in the nation. The best,” she declared. “He started the John and Abigail Adams scholarships, which give the top 25 percent of high school graduates a four-year tuition-free scholarship. This is the man America needs.”

--Mark Bomster, Alyson Klein & Nirvi Shah

Photo: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

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