One of the biggest issues this election cycle is education. With a crisis in higher education costs, looming student loan debt that is larger than credit card debt, and partisan fights about public education funding, it’s no wonder that each party took on the issue in their annual conventions. But now that these conventions are over, it’s time to take stock of where each party stands on education. Political platforms are often not read thoroughly, or at all, by party supporters, but they should be: political scientist and Bates College Assistant Professor of Politics Stephen Engel explained to a blogger at The Washington Post, “a platform is an opportunity for ‘the party base to assert its principles, figure out what its principles are, to show its own strength in the party.’” In other words, if you really want to know what a party stands for, don’t just listen to the speeches: read the platform.
But that’s a lot of work if you are only interested in one issue. In this post, I explain the main points of the Republican Party platform, with help from OnTheIssues.com, where you can find each of the selected quotes.
- Higher Education is valuable primarily as a route to employment: “Over 50% of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed, working at jobs for which their expensive educations gave them no training. It is time to get back to basics and to higher education programs directly related to job opportunities.”
- Education works better when there are more privatized options and “consumer choice”: “New systems of learning are needed to compete with traditional four-year colleges: expanded community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector… Public policy should address all these challenges and to make accessible to everyone the emerging alternatives, with their lower cost degrees, to traditional college attendance. Further, the Platform states, “School choice – whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits – is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools.”
- Education funding works better when it is privatized: “The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans; however, it should serve as an insurance guarantor for the private sector as they offer loans to students.”
- Parents always know best: “We applaud efforts to promote school choice initiatives that give parents more control over their children’s education. By the same token, we defend the option for home schooling and call for vigilant enforcement of laws designed to protect family rights and privacy in education. Children should not be compelled to answer offensive or intrusive questionnaires.”
- Religion should be allowed in public schools, and private religious groups should be able to use public school buildings: “We will continue to work for the return of voluntary school prayer to our schools and will strongly enforce the Republican legislation that guarantees equal access to school facilities by student religious groups. We strongly support voluntary student-initiated prayer in school without governmental interference. We strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s rulings against student-initiated prayer.”
- Government should play a smaller role in education: “The role of the federal government must be limited as we return control to parents, teachers, and school boards. We defend the option for home schooling and call for enforcement of laws to protect family privacy. We will work for the return of voluntary school prayer and will strongly enforce legislation that guarantees equal access to school facilities by student religious groups.”
- The only sex education in the schools should be abstinence education: “Broaching the subject of sex education in schools, the Republican platform issues a renewed call for replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with abstinence education, as that is the only way to protect against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.” This is how OntheIssues.com summed up the party’s position, but the actual platform says that abstinence is the only “100%” effective way to protect against pregnancy-and it also says that no one should have sex before marriage.
The Republican platform is driven by both conservative fiscal policy about smaller government intrusion into economics as well as conservative Christian ideology. It appeals to the core of today’s Republican voters and the values with which they want to define American society.
Concerns about the Republican Platform
As with all political statements, though, there are disagreements. Not all Republicans necessarily support every single measure in their party’s platform, just as all Democrats may not agree on a complete point-by-point basis with their own platform. It’s also historically true that presidents don’t always agree with or follow their party’s platform once in office, due to the importance of compromise and negotiation in politics. However, the Republican Party platform and the statements of its standard bearer, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, should raise important questions for all Americans regardless of party commitment. Paul Krugman, in a New York Times column titled “We Don’t Need No Education,“ reminded readers that the Republican Party would actually like to reduce education and education funding:
“In the remarks Mr. Romney later tried to deny, he derided President Obama: ‘He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.’ Then he declared, ‘It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.’”
Even Michael Medved, conservative talk show host writing in the generally conservative Wall Street Journal, pointed out that many of the party’s policy plans could “alienate” its own supporters, as “it’s actually voters with four-year college degrees who will play the key role in defeating or re-electing Barack Obama.” Presumably, such voters will look unfavorably upon such issues as privatized student loans and reductions on student aid.
Clearly, ideological battles over education play a prominent role in this year’s presidential election because of their centrality in the party platforms, convention speeches, and everyday concerns of most people. Next week, I’ll explore the Democratic party’s positions on education and concerns that they raise.