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Surprise, Surprise: Priorities Misrepresenting Romney’s Education Policies



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Priorities USA – which ushered in the classy era of accusing Mitt Romney of being responsible for a woman’s death – is on the air with a new ad that suggests Romney would destroy the American education system. But after looking at the sources, it’s clear that the ad is rife with speculation about what Romney might do, instead of highlighting specific policies he has announced he intends to do in office.  

So here’s a breakdown of the charges from the Priorities ad, and how these charges compare to Romney’s actual policies.

1. Romney would “cut early childhood education.”

The source listed is a March 29th Huffington Post story (I’m assuming it’s the story linked; Priorities USA hasn’t responded to my e-mail requesting their sources) which cites a National Education Association study which estimates 2 million kids would lose the chance to attend Head Start as a result of the Ryan budget cuts.

But there are a couple of problems with this citation. First, Romney has made clear he doesn’t always agree with the Ryan budget: on Medicare, for instance, Ryan left in place the cuts that were part of Medicare, while Romney wants to restore that funding.  And second, NEA is speculating that this would lead to a loss of funding for Head Start; the Ryan budget doesn’t specifically mention Head Start, as New America Foundation education blogger Maggie Severens notes.  One way to achieve some of the spending goals Ryan is touting would be to cut Head Start.  (And considering what a lousy program Head Start is, that’s not a bad idea.) But you could implement the Ryan budget without doing that.

2. Romney would “slash K-12 funding.”

This is based on a study from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, a liberal think tank. Once again, the premise is that Romney would implement the Ryan budget exactly as it is. From the Center’s report:

Another quarter of the value of federal discretionary grants goes to help states educate children.  These funds mostly end up with elementary and high schools, primarily to help them educate children from low-income families and children with learning disorders and other types of disabilities.  The funds also go to agencies that provide preschool education to low-income children through the Head Start program, and to school districts to help them train better teachers and reduce class sizes.

If these federal grants are reduced sharply, as they would be under the Ryan budget, states and  local governments will be forced to choose between increasing their own spending to protect their schools or allowing their schools to take the financial hit, which could damage the quality of their education systems.

One, as the Center notes, if these cuts come to pass, states and cities could opt to continue funding at the same level by cutting spending elsewhere or by tax hikes.  And as Cato’s Andrew Coulson pointed out last year in a hearing, there’s no reason to believe spending more (or the same) is going to boost educational outcomes:

We spent over $151,000 per student sending the graduating class of 2009 through public schools.  That is nearly three times as much as we spent on the graduating class of 1970, adjusting for inflation. Despite that massive real spending increase, overall achievement has stagnated or declined, depending on the subject.

3. Romney would “cut college aid for middle-class families.”

The source for this is a March study from Tax Policy Center, which assumes that Romney would let the American Opportunity Tax Credit (which provides a tax credit of up to $2500 for four years for college) expire. (I asked the campaign about this in August, and didn’t get a clear yes or no on whether Romney would let the credit – which is slated to end this year – expire, or would push for an extension.) This credit is part of Obama’s push for increasing subsidies for middle-class families with college students; you can receive this credit if your income is as high as $80,000 a year. Obama’s made it clear he’s  comfortable making college subsidies for the middle class normal, instead of restricting government assistance for those who are genuinely low-income.

There’s no doubt that it’s tough on middle-class families to afford college education these days. But there’s also reason to worry that government subsidies are increasing the rate at which college tuitions are rising, and furthermore, considering that most college students will recoup their college costs in future earnings, it seems reasonable that students take out loans.

4. Romney would give “$250,000 tax break” to “multi-millionaires.”

And now we get to the class warfare rhetoric point: Romney’s slashing education spending to give tax cuts to Bill Gates! But this is completely speculative. This number comes from the Tax Policy Center study, which doesn’t take into account what tax breaks and deductions Romney would eliminate (to be fair, Romney has yet to announce which tax breaks and deductions he would eliminate or reduce in order to make his plan not increase the deficit). And in the debate, Romney specifically said, “But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy.” 



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