Romney's Education Plan Is a Game of Pretend

Dig into the GOP presidential candidate's education plan, and it looks like religious private schools are the winners

I recently downloaded Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education. When I noted that the forward was written by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, I promised myself that I’d honor my contract and write for iVillage. I would not go to my old bosses at National Lampoon.

This is proving to be difficult.

Governor Bush starts out by saying, “There is no one ‘silver bullet’ solution to our nation’s educational problems.” Even in moments where the governor shows some awareness of the enormity of the problem his choice of words is odd. Would his “silver bullet” have J.M.J. on it (for Jesus Mary and Joseph) or just the traditional cross?

The Romney plan calls for certain federal education dollars to be made portable for low income and special needs students, supposedly giving families a choice as to which school their children should attend, including private and parochial schools. Take a closer look, and you’ll see what kind of “choice” these families would really be getting.

According to data from the National Association of Independent Schools the median price of a private day school education is $19,100 annually. This doesn’t take into account annual giving at $1,149, or capital giving at $1,319. And don’t get me started on fundraisers. If you think selling gift-wrap at your public school is a nuisance try the bidding on a good parking spot and watching it go for $30,000. When all is said and done, the average cost of a private school education is $21,568.

Take that into consideration, along with the fact that the federal requirement for being a low income family, depending on the number of children and the state where the family resides, could range from $16,755 for a family of one all the way up to $67,065 for a family of eight living in the very expensive state of Hawaii.

So let’s play pretend with a family of four making $34,575 living in the lower 48. They would like to take their federal funds and move to a better school, a private school. This sounds amazing until you look at how many federal dollars are allocated to each student.

The federal per student funds for the 2008-2009 school year were $1,158. I am confident in stating that $1,158 towards a tuition that exceeds $20,000 will do nothing in admitting at risk kids to private secular schools.

But interestingly, when you look at the annual report from the National Catholic Education Association, the mean tuitions are $3,673 for elementary school and $8,182 for secondary. As a parent who walked out of a Catholic School tour after being told that creationism and evolution are the same, I would worry about already struggling children being given close to a 50% discount to attend a school that is incapable of teaching the scientific method.

Even if you’re not a parent this is important, because we cannot afford a generation of education based on fairy tales. If you think your uterus is in peril in 2012 just wait until these kids are in office.

The other thing to consider about Romney’s plan to “fix” education is this -- assume families just take their federal funds across town to a better school. Then what happens to the underperforming school and the children left there? I can tell you whose children they are: immigrants, illiterates, and the not very savvy. These are the kids most at risk and should not be confused for the least intelligent of children. They will get the worst teachers and the fewest resources.

I regret to report that I never got past page three. I was too busy foaming at the mouth.

Jessica Gottlieb is a Los Angeles blogger. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaGottlieb.

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