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Mitt Romney unveils education reform plan heavy on 'parental choice' (+video)

Mitt Romney's plan for education reform challenges President Obama and teacher's unions, including federal money for some low-income and disabled students to attend private schools.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gestures while speaking at the Latino Coalition annual economic summit in Washington, where he unveiled his education plan on Wednesday.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Mitt Romney called for an expansion of parental choice in America's school system Wednesday, pivoting to a subject he has discussed little so far in his presidential campaign.

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The candidate's plan is heavy on parental choice.

Mr. Romney spoke in Washington, taking his message on education to a city that is home not only to his electoral rival – President Obama – but also to one of the nation's important experiments with school vouchers.

He criticized Mr. Obama for failing to pursue deeper education reforms, saying the president has been "unable to stand up to union bosses, and unwilling to stand up for kids.”

“As president, I will pursue bold policy changes,” said Romney. “Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers – these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.”

The speech comes as both Obama and Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, are starting to vie intensely for the middle-ground swing voters who will decide the election in key states. Education ranks far behind jobs and the economy on voters' priority list, but for many voters it's been on par with things like health care and gas prices, among the everyday issues they care about.

Romney's speech also coincides with fresh signs that the US is struggling to keep up with other advanced nations on schooling.

For example, US eighth-graders are doing a bit better in science than they were two years ago, but 7 in 10 still are not considered proficient, the Education Department said this month in its latest report card, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Obama has made headlines about education this year more often than Republican candidates, in part because he's been coaxing Congress to extend low-interest loans for college students getting subsidized federal aid. Since being elected, Obama has also promoted a "race to the top" in which states compete to improve their education systems, in return for extra federal dollars.

During the Republican primaries, the Education Department came up during debates as an agency ripe for budget cutting or even outright elimination. Now, as Romney is shifting toward general election mode, he's talking up ideas that he says can make the US education system stronger.

The Romney campaign released a series of bullet-point proposals alongside his speech, with many ideas framed around the appeal of parental choice and control. Its statement called for "tying federal funds directly to dramatic reforms that expand parental choice, invest in innovation, and reward teachers for their results instead of their tenure."

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