The Ryan impact: Will Mitt’s VP choice toughen GOP education policy?
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The Ryan impact: Will Mitt’s VP choice toughen GOP education policy?

New York City : NY : USA | Aug 13, 2012 at 2:01 PM PDT
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It’s official. Presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for his running mate, sending a strong signal that the Romney/Ryan ticket will be focusing on federal spending out on the stump.

As chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan gained national prominence when he introduced a federal budget plan that slashed discretionary spending, including some to-the-bone reductions in education funding. The Ryan plan aims to vastly reduce the funding - or in some cases actually gut - programs such as Head Start, federal research funding, student loans and Pell Grants.

Romney rolled out his own education policy last May in the form of a white paper entitled “A Chance for Every Child.” In a subsequent campaign stop in Philadelphia the candidate got less than a lukewarm reception. Meeting with local educators and parent groups, Mr. Romney’s position that class size in not a factor in student failure or success drew heavy criticism. Since then, the Romney campaign has been fairly quiet on the subject of education. But with Ryan on the ticket, expectations are that education will take a more prominent role in the national debate.

One thing that all side recognize - although they may not agree on solutions - is making today’s students ready for tomorrow’s jobs a national priority. In a number of job sectors - including healthcare, technology and manufacturing - employers are speaking out about the current and projected deficit of skilled workers, and are asking that colleges and universities start addressing this need.

The Obama administration responded by committing to make a college or technical education available to everyone. The cornerstone of this commitment has been to introduce new initiatives to make a post secondary education an affordable reality for all Americans. Pell Grants have been increased, making them more accessible to poor and disadvantaged students. Ryan’s proposal would severely limit the requirements for the grants and cap the maximum awards.

In addition, Obama administration championed reform that removed the ‘middlemen,’ i.e. banks and other financial institutions, from federally guaranteed student loans, a move that had helped control interest costs for college students. However, a Romney education advisor recently told the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators that, as president, Romney would eliminate or consolidate several grant programs and would support a return to bank-based student lending. Most financial aid experts predict this would not only cost students more in interest, it would actually increase costs for the federal government.

As a Capitol Hill newbie, one of Ryan’s first jobs was as a speechwriter for William Bennett, Ronald Reagan’s outspoken Secretary of Education. Bennett was a vocal and vociferous critic of colleges and universities, arguing that federal financial aid was a leading cause of higher tuition costs. Not only did Ryan embrace his old boss’s ideas, those principles are reflected in his recent budget proposal.

Mitt Romney’s positions on education are less extreme than those espoused by Congressman Ryan. However, speculation is building about the campaign’s dynamics. Will the cautious Romney temper the more conservative Ryan? Or will Ryan push Romney to new extremes?

Stay tuned.

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