Santorum’s shifting views on education


Erin Vecchio, a former Penn Hills school board member and former head of the local Democratic committee, at the time questioned whether it was proper for the school district to pay the cyber school tuition for five of Santorum’s children because they spent most of their time at his home in Virginia. She said Santorum should have reimbursed the district for the tuition costs.

“He should have been held accountable for that money, but he wasn’t,” Vecchio said in a recent telephone interview with the Associated Press. “When he found a program that he could use to his advantage, he used it. That’s the thing with Rick Santorum.”

Vecchio said the fight over Santorum’s residency was ironic, given how Santorum had made challenging the residency of Democrat Doug Walgren a key campaign issue when he toppled the incumbent and won his House seat in 1990. Santorum slammed the seven-term representative for living with his family in McLean, Va.

Santorum and his wife, Karen, now own a home in Great Falls, Va., an affluent Washington suburb. They moved there after Santorum’s 2006 Senate loss.

Acknowledging that its own rules were confusing, the Pennsylvania Education Department in 2006 agreed to settle the dispute by repaying the district. The state Education Department said the money was not a reimbursement, but an acknowledgment that the department gave conflicting rules about when a district can challenge the state’s decision to withhold cyber school tuition fees from the district.

On the campaign trail, Santorum’s candidacy has been boosted by Christian home-school advocates, evangelical pastors, and tightly knit networks of conservative activists who helped him win Iowa’s leadoff caucuses and a three-state sweep of contests on Feb. 7. Limited government has been a big part of his pitch.

Santorum now says he regrets voting for the sweeping No Child Left Behind education overhaul. He’s called for a significantly smaller Education Department but would not eliminate it. He’s also criticized early childhood education programs as an attempt by government to “indoctrinate your children.”

Santorum says government can only do so much to educate kids, and that parents bear the prime responsibility.

“Yes, the government can help,” Santorum said during a recent stop in Ohio, which holds a key contest in the upcoming March 6 Super Tuesday contests. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

He said it dates from the nation’s industrialization, “when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”

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