Education in spotlight, briefly, at last night’s GOP debate

Last night’s debate among the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination marked the first time all were asked to comment on education. They had 30 seconds to respond to a question by teacher Stella Lohmann about what they’d do with the “massive overreach of big government into the classroom.” Predictably, answers dealt with scaling back the federal role in education and localizing educational decisions. Providing greater choice and parental control were also popular suggestions. Here’s a look at some of what was said, in the order in which candidates answered the question:

Gary Johnson: “The federal Department of Education gives each state 11 cents out of every dollar that every state spends, but it comes with 16 cents worth of strings attached. So what America does not understand is that it’s a negative to take federal money. Give it to 50 laboratories of innovation, the states, to improve on, and that’s what we’ll see: dramatic improvement.”

Rick Santorum: “At some point, we have – the government has convinced parents that at some point [the education of their children is] no longer their responsibility. And in fact, they force them, in many respects, to turn their children over to the public education system and wrest control from them and block them out of participation of that.”

Newt Gingrich: “I believe we’d be far better off if most states adopted a program of the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-through-12, so that parents could choose where their child went to school, whether it was public, or private, or home-schooling, and parents could be involved.”

Ron Paul: “The goal should be set to get the government out completely, but don’t enforce this law of No Child Left Behind. It’s not going to do any good, and nobody likes it. And there’s no value to it. The teachers don’t like it, and the students don’t like it.”

Rick Perry: “I happen to believe we ought to be promoting school choice all across this country. I think school — the voucher system, charter schools all across this country.”

Mitt Romney: “We looked at what drives good education in our state, what we found is the best thing for education is great teachers, hire the very best and brightest to be teachers, pay them properly, make sure that you have school choice, test your kids to see if they are meeting the standards that need to be met, and make sure that you put the parents in charge. And as president I will stand up to the national teachers unions.”

Michele Bachmann: “What I would do as president of the United States is pass the mother of all repeal bills on education. I would take the entire federal education law, repeal it. Then I would go over to the Department of Education, I’d turn off the lights, I would lock the door and I would send all the money back to the states and localities.”

Herman Cain: “All of the programs at the federal level where there’s strings attached, cut all the strings. We have got to encourage parents to take advantage of choices, but provide those choices and we must find ways to empower the students.”

Jon Huntsman: “We actually worked on early childhood literacy. If you can lock in the pillars of cognitive development around reading and math before age six, you are giving those kids the best gift possible as they then proceed through education.”