REPORT: Where Do The GOP Candidates Stand On Education?

Our guest blogger is Jennifer Steck, an intern with the Education Policy Team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

So far, all that the Republican presidential candidates have revealed about their education positions has been their supposed distaste for federal involvement in the education system and their particular ire for No Child Left Behind, the reworking of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act approved under former President George W. Bush. But have they always felt this way? And what about their positions on a host of other issues, from expanded learning time to charter schools? ThinkProgress has compiled the following report to help you sift through where the GOP candidates stand when it comes to education.

The Flip-Floppers

Mitt Romney: When it comes to the Department of Education, Mitt Romney exemplifies a flip-flopper. In 1994, he opposed it. In 2007, he supported it. Then, as a final act of indecision, he opposed it in a recent GOP debate. At least he has not flipped-flopped on other education issues. He has consistently supported No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and the ELT initiative. Here’s the proof. In 2005, Romney appropriated $6.5 million for the ELT initiative, and in 2007, he approved $37.7 million to be used for public schools districts that send students to charter schools.

“As I’ve been a governor and seen the impact that the federal government can have holding down the interest of the teachers’ unions and instead putting the interests of the kids and the parents and the teachers first, I see that the Department of Education can actually make a difference. So I supported No Child Left Behind.” (2007 GOP debate, 5/15/07)


“Education has to be held at the local and state level, not at the federal level. We need to get the federal government out of education.” (2011 GOP debate, 9/22/11)

Rick Perry: The $4 billion budget cut Perry approved for education in 2011 says a lot about where his priorities lie. In fact, Perry refused to enter Texas in Race to the Top because he did not want to place Texas in the hands of “unelected bureaucrats.” Perry also opposes No Child Left Behind, although he appears to be following Romney’s flip-flopping strategy in this case, because when Bush first enacted NCLB, Perry lauded the idea and bragged that Texas was “a model” for it.

“Texas was a model for President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation, and we continue to lead the nation in innovative solutions to improve our schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s stamp of approval means we can move forward with our plan to improve early childhood education, dropout prevention, teaching excellence, science education and our schools’ use of technology.” (Press Release, 7/26/02)


“Yeah, that’s a cool name [No Child Left Behind], but it’s a monstrous intrusion into our affairs.” (National Review, 4/4/11)

Rick Santorum: When it comes to education, Santorum likes to say one thing, but do another. For instance, Santorum says the United States needs to get away from the federally-run “assembly lines” and get rid of the Department of Education, but his votes in Congress demonstrate support for the federal education system. If that is not confusing enough, Santorum also thinks that “the education system is [not] there to serve the needs of children. They serve the needs of parents.” Going along with his “parents first” theme, Santorum has decided the United States also needs to do away with early childhood education.

It is a parent’s responsibility to educate their children. It is not the government’s job. We have sort of lost focus here a little bit. Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can.” (Des Moines Register, 8/2/11)


Voted “YES” on no Child Left Behind in 2001. (6/14/01)

The Hypocrite

Newt Gingrich: As far as the candidates for this election are concerned, Gingrich has the most concrete plan for education reform. In addition to shrinking the Department of Education and eliminating No Child Left Behind, Gingrich wants a “no-limits” charter school and wants Pell Grants to be available for K-12 students, allowing them to have options to attend other institutions besides their local public school. One other interesting fact about Gingrich: despite his opinion that Obama is a socialist, he nonetheless teamed up with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Rev. Al Sharpton in 2009 to tour cities and push the Obama administration’s educational reform program.

“It was precisely my effort to place the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team in some historic context that led me to conclude that this is, indeed, a secular-socialist machine.” (The Washington Post, 4/23/10)


“And I’m not sure on my side of the aisle which was more confusing to my friends, hanging out with the Obama administration or hanging out with Sharpton.” (Meet the Press, 11/15/09)

Mr. Apathy

Jon Huntsman: As one of the GOP candidates who has not necessarily been in the spotlight, Huntsman has not said much of anything about education recently. Prior to his presidential campaign, he had stated a few times that “No Child Left Behind hasn’t worked for this country,” and that he might consider reconfiguring the Department of Education.

As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed HB 1001, which placed Utah’s educational requirement above the ones specified by NCLB. He also signed the Parent Choice in Education Act in 2007, which created a voucher program that would grant students a certain amount of money based on their parents’ income, but when it was repealed later in the year, Huntsman did not try to fight it. Huntsman performed a similar maneuver in 2005, when Utah decided to fight against NLCB. At the start, Huntsman approved of this strategy, but when he started to feel the heat, he backed off and asked for more time to reconsider.

The Homophobe

Michele Bachmann: Bachmann and the federal education system have never worked well together. Before her political career began, Bachmann joined the Maple River Education Coalition and spent time traveling around the state, preaching the idea that federal educational policy was laying the framework for a state-planned economy, as well making some extremely offensive remarks regarding homosexuality and education in schools.

After her endeavors with this organization, Bachmann involved herself in politics, and continued to spread her state-oriented education goals. She avidly supports the abolition of the Department of Education and has wanted to reform NCLB for several years. She even co-authored legislation in 2007 to essentially eliminate NCLB altogether.

“You have a teacher talking about his gayness. (The elementary school student) goes home then and says ‘Mom! What’s gayness? We had a teacher talking about this today.’ The mother says ‘Well, that’s when a man likes other men, and they don’t like girls.’ The boy’s eight. He’s thinking, ‘Hmm. I don’t like girls. I like boys. Maybe I’m gay.’ And you think, ‘Oh, that’s, that’s way out there. The kid isn’t gonna think that.’ Are you kidding? That happens all the time. You don’t think that this is intentional, the message that’s being given to these kids? That’s child abuse.” (Edwatch Speech, 11/6/04)

The Purist

Ron Paul: Paul has an extremely libertarian view on education policy in the United States. He is a strong advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education and argues that a child’s education is the responsibility of the parents. Paul has voted “no” on any legislation that proposed increased funding to schools, the creation of charter schools, and any legislation regarding No Child Left Behind. He believes that education is not a right.

Education isn’t a right, medical care isn’t a right. These are things that you have to earn.” (MSNBC, 3/3/11)

The Newbie

Herman Cain: As the newest member to the political scene, Cain probably has the least experience with education policy, and it shows. Two phrases most commonly used by Cain when referencing education are “kids first” and “unbundling education.” To unbundle education, the government needs to stop “micromanaging education,” which would allow to education to become localized. Localizing education allows for “kids first” to be the primary focus. Cain opposes NCLB and the Department of Education because they are prime examples of the governmental micromanagement of the states.