By Joseph Harkins
HOUSTON _ The presumptive Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, went head-to-toe with -- at times -- a hostile crowd at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this week in Houston.
Romney took on President Barack Obama without flinching upon his message on education. Calling it a “national education emergency,” Romney has said that poor and disabled children should be allowed to escape failing public schools by using federal money to attend private schools and other alternative settings.
“Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide,” said Romney. “But, they are 42 percent of the students in our worst performing schools. Candidates can’t have it both ways; talking up education reform while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform.”
Romney has said he wants to expand choices for families so children can flee failing schools. His campaign released an earlier white paper highlighting his support for federal vouchers — a plan to reroute tax dollars sent to public schools to help educate poor and disabled children, instead letting that money follow the students to private schools. The federal government will spend $48.8 billion this year on poor and disabled students.
The cause hits especially close to home for NAACP delegates, when considered these numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics: In 2009, the average reading score of African-American fourth-graders was 26 points lower than Caucasian fourth-graders. White high school seniors scored 30 points higher in math than their black counterparts.
There are many theories to explain the disparity in these numbers, but perhaps the biggest concern is economic status. Simply put, there are more underperforming schools in poor neighborhoods than middle-class areas. Thirty-seven percent of black school-age children come from households living below the poverty line, compared to 12 percent of white children.
Howard Johnson, an NAACP delegate, said lowering taxes isn’t the answer to the inner-cities’ woes.
“We get these minority students out of these bad schools and put them over here (alternative schools) where they’re getting an education,” said Johnson. “So you get 10 out and you leave 100 in the same condition.”
Romney’s plan calls for a market-based approach to education, where schools essentially compete for students. He believes that will incentivize educators to get underperforming schools turned around instead of throwing money at the problem.
"For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted," Romney said.
Ana Lucero Camacho-Duran, who attended a Texas charter school, told Fox News that college wouldn't have been an option for her and her siblings, had they attended her broken public school. She said having a say in her education was invaluable.
“Breaking the cycle is important because then you realize you’re able to have a choice, you have options to go to a better school, provide a better education for your future generations,” said Camacho-Duran, whose siblings have all graduated from college.