President Barack Obama said his Republican rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, favors cutting the Education Department’s budget by up to 20 percent, while Romney insisted that was false. The moment was one of many during their first debate in which the two candidates disagreed sharply over policy decisions with important implications for schools.
Seeking to draw a distinction between himself and Romney, Obama recalled a teacher he met in Las Vegas who had students sitting on the floor and using 10-year-old textbooks. He suggested that Romney’s plans to cut taxes by 20 percent across the board while also cutting federal spending don’t add up—and they won’t allow the nation to make important new investments in research and education.
Romney countered by arguing that Obama has directed billions of dollars in federal funding to what he described as failed new energy research—a figure that could have paid for 2 million more teachers, Romney noted.
The two candidates faced off Oct. 3 before a crowd of fewer than 1,000 people at the University of Denver. But their policy-heavy debate really was aimed at the tens of millions of television viewers who tuned in, particularly those who haven’t committed their support for either candidate.
On education, Romney touted his record as governor of Massachusetts, which he repeatedly said has the top-ranked schools in the country.
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It’s true that Massachusetts schools are among the top-ranked schools in the nation, according to results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card). But Massachusetts also ranks eighth in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending on education, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released earlier this year.
At one point in the debate, when Obama claimed that Romney wants to cut up to 20 percent of the federal budget for education, Romney responded: “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”
Obama was basing his claim on the budget proposal put forth by Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. The House budget that Ryan authored and that Romney said he mostly supports includes large cuts to federal programs—but the problem is that it doesn’t specify how these cuts would be distributed, leaving the Romney camp open to speculation about how the cuts would affect education.