Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his campaign used the night of his acceptance speech to make the case that he was an advocate for education as governor of Massachusetts—and would make expanding school choice a K-12 priority if he wins the White House.
“When it comes to the school your child should attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance,” Romney told the crowd here. But although his 39-minute speech included pointed attacks on President Barack Obama’s performance on the economy, defense, and health care, he was silent on the president’s K-12 record.
Earlier in the night, Romney’s most visible K-12 ambassador, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said the GOP nominee’s background as a governor will put him in a powerful position to make big changes on K-12.
“Because he is a former governor, Mitt Romney understands that states must lead this national movement,” Bush said.
To underscore his point, Bush gave a big shout-out to the education efforts of a litany of Republican governors, starting with high praise for Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, both of whom recently enacted voucher programs— the centerpiece of Romney’s own education plan.
“All kids can learn,” Bush said. “Governor Romney believes it, and the data proves it. While he was governor, Massachusetts raised standards, and today their students lead the nation in academic performance.”
But the American Federation of Teachers—which has heard teachers’ unions blasted on the floor of the convention in a series of speeches this week—quickly tweeted that Massachusetts also has a strong teachers’ union.
Romney is calling for allowing students to use federal Title I and special education money to attend a private or out-of-district school. Education analysts have noted that the plan has some major holes—for instance, the funding wouldn’t be enough to cover the total cost of educating a student. (Check out this analysis from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, released Thursday.)
Bush reasoned that consumers have an array of varieties of milk to choose from at the supermarkets—2 percent, milk with extra vitamin-D, strawberry—so parents should have as many choices for schools.
And Bush showcased the benefits of school choice by bringing Frantz Placide, a Miami student who used money from a Sunshine State voucher program to attend Archbishop Curley Notre Dame, which he called “the toughest private school” in the city.
“Who knows what the future would have held, if there hadn’t been a choice in my education?” he said.
(That voucher program has been ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.)
Placide and Bush were joined on stage by Sean Duffy, a teacher who launched a STEM lab at Del Valle High School in Texas.
“We turn students away from education each year by not providing a robust curriculum that keeps up with the world in which these students live—and will eventually work,” he said.
Bay State Record
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney championed some bold education proposals that are strikingly similar to what Obama has pushed as president, including paying teachers based on their performance and using aggressive tactics to turn around the lowest-performing schools. But Romney was unable to sell many of those ideas to a solidly Democratic legislature.
Still, he had some notable successes on K-12, including pushing for Massachusetts to be tested as a separate “country” on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS.
About an hour before Romney’s acceptance, viewers were treated to a video featuring a recipient of the John and Abigail Adams scholarship, a merit scholarship Romney created in Massachusetts. Ann Romney also mentioned the program during her speech to the convention earlier this week.
But the Obama campaign’s Truth Team tweeted that under Romney college fees in the Bay State “skyrocketed so dramatically that the Adams scholarship had little impact.”
The audience also heard from Jane Edmonds, a self-proclaimed “liberal Democrat” who served as Romney’s secretary of workforce development in Massachusetts. She lauded Romney’s ability to collaborate .
“I could tell immediately, just by our interaction, that he is the real thing—authentic,” she said. “He struck me then—and now—as honest, transparent and inclusive.” (David Driscoll, a Democrat who served as Romney’s education commissioner, has also praised Romney’s collegiality in Massachusetts, but did not address the crowd.)
The Romney campaign hasn’t made the former governor’s school choice proposals a focal point of its campaign. But it seemed to play well inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention is being held.
In an interview from the convention floor, Janell Yin, a former teacher from Honolulu, applauded Romney’s vision for expanding school choice.
“If we don’t have choice, we’re under a dictatorship,” she said.
And Melissa Nash, an attendee from West Palm Beach, Fla., also gave the thumbs-up.
“When parents have a choice I think you’ll see our standards improve,” she said.
Assistant Managing Editor Mark Bomster and Staff Writer Nirvi Shah contributed to this report.
Photo: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shakes hands of delegates before speaking at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. --AP Photo/David Goldman