On Wednesday, Mitt Romney delivered a speech to the Latino Coalition of the Chamber of Commerce. Some liberal websites covered the speech with derision with comments like “in 26 minutes he didn’t once mention immigration.” This underscores their ignorance and their group identity politics and show this propensity in other areas. The alleged war on women is a perfect example. In that case, liberals and Democrats proceed from the mistaken impression that “reproductive rights” are the main concern of all women. To them, being a “stay at home” mother or, in some cases, even choosing motherhood, is an anomaly- a foreign idea that does not mesh with their concept of the “modern woman.” This is exemplified in the composite and ridiculous “Julia” who puts off having a child while she pursues her lucrative web design career all made possible by the Democrats.
And so it is with Latinos. In the mind of the liberal, immigration is that community’s overriding concern. However, survey after survey has indicated that immigration is not the #1 concern on the minds of Hispanics. Their list of concerns are, in order: education, inflation, jobs, health care, crime and then immigration. While the liberals deride Romney’s speech, he is kicking off a series of campaign stops that stress education. Using the opportunity to do so before a Latino group first makes perfect strategic sense.
In past articles, I have stressed the importance of educational reform in the United States. No one on the Left or Right disputes the fact that a quality education is perhaps the single biggest contributing factor to personal success and wealth. We have heard the statistics of how a high school graduate earns more over a lifetime than a high school drop out. We have all seen where the US ranks compared to our international counterparts in math, science and other areas. In the abstract, Democrats/liberals and Republicans/conservatives recognize the problem and wish to make improvements. But that is where the agreement ends. There is a huge chasm between proposed solutions and ultimate goals. Liberals are beholden to special interests that wish not to enhance student performance, but enhance the pay checks of teachers despite teacher performance. Their classic response is always to spend more money. But, decades of throwing money at the problem has not solved a single problem, but has created either stagnation or a backwards slide.
There are solutions to the problems in American education. Most of those solutions and innovations have not occurred in Washington, but in state capitals backed by people named Pawlenty, Walker, Bush, Jindal, Christie and even Romney. Yet, look at who is obstructing these reforms. Three years after reforms in New Jersey, there are still “Starve Christie” stickers in New Jersey schools.
As Romney correctly notes, the solution starts with parental choice. There is a reason private schools perform better than public schools. Parents have made a choice and that choice and the emphasis they place on education is illustrated through their pocket books. They have a direct financial stake in the outcome. Likewise, with charter schools, parents have made a choice to bypass the traditional public school and tend to be more involved in the education of their children. Also, because charter schools attract a similar student body- some are centered around science or math or the performing arts- the environment for learning is enhanced.
Romney’s educational policy does not increase federal funding. That is a start. I would argue that the federal government should disengage and disinvest from K-12 education. With federal funding comes federal mandates and intrusion into an area where states were doing just fine until the federal government intervened in the 1960s. The idea behind parental choice extends beyond more charter schools. Christie in New Jersey established cross-district registration where students in underperforming schools could transfer to nearby better public schools if they had the classroom space. Parental choice is the first tool to break that cycle of the bigotry of mediocrity. At one time we bused children against their will and the will of their parents for integration and a better education. Today, we enact laws and policies that block the effective willful “busing” of children with the same goals in mind.
And Romney is correct to take on those opposed to reform, the teacher unions and especially their stand on tenure. This is a battle Romney can win with the voters. When Christie took on the NJEA, the union response was swift, concerted, organized and brutal. They expended over $5 million in weekly commercials denouncing Christie. Yet while the average worker in the private sector was spending over $4,000 a year for health insurance, the union balked at teachers having to pony up an average $675 a year for health insurance. The people of New Jersey saw through this “attack on teachers” for what it was and largely sided with Christie. Romney need to be as confrontational as Christie. Tim Pawlenty exacted concessions from the teacher unions in Minnesota by working with them. Regardless, even if Romney adopted the NEA agenda word for word, they would still endorse Obama and donate to Obama. But, if Romney chooses to go the Pawlenty route, he should not succumb to the NEA or AFT.
In the end, this speech and its target audience is a large step in the right direction. Education is an important and overlooked issue in this year’s campaign. Equally obvious is the importance of this issue to the Latino community, certainly more so than immigration. This is a winning proposition with ALL Americans. I am starting to like Romney more than I did two months ago.