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Santorum Would 'Eliminate' No Child Left Behind Act

UPDATED

Rick Santorum is still regretting his vote in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In tonight's CNN debate in Arizona—which hosts a primary, along with Michigan, on Tuesday—the former Pennsylvania senator was hammered again for voting for NCLB in 2001. He's neck-and-neck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who also charged Santorum with a fiscal conservative foul: voting to expand funding for the U.S. Department of Education.

Santorum, who reiterated that he regretted voting for NCLB, said that law has led to increased federal education spending. And, indeed, according to the New America Foundation, spending on federal Title I (one of the big federal education programs) has grown 88 percent, or $7.7 billion, since 2001. Santorum later said NCLB created a "testing regime."

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul piled on. He has a new television ad out in Michigan calling Santorum a "fake." Paul was asked during the debate to defend that ad. On his list of evidence of Santorum's purported fakery, Paul noted that Santorum voted in favor of NCLB in Congress and "now he's running in an effort to get rid of it."

In the debate, Santorum said he would "eliminate" NCLB (which I guess would mean eliminating the entire law authorizing important federal duties in elementary and secondary education?) and cut federal education funding, returning the money to the states. Most people, on both sides of the aisle, agree that NCLB needs a major overhaul, not to mention that the law is overdue for congressional reauthorization.

While Santorum, who home-schools his children and has recently called "government-run" schools "anachronistic" and "factory" bureaucracies, does seem to acknowledge a role in education for the federal government—namely protecting civil rights and special education. That's at least according to his campaign website.

"The federal government's role is limited to areas such as supporting civil rights protections such as IDEA in a common sense fashion, enabling essential research, and promoting equality of opportunity where needed," his website says.

One of the last questions of the debate sparked a more general discussion about the candidates' positions on the federal role in education. Although the four were asked specifically about their views of NCLB, they didn't really address what they would do with the law.

Santorum elaborated that not only does he not want the federal government really involved in schools, but he said that "state government should get out of the state education business" as well. (This Politics K-12 blogger is no constitutional scholar, but don't state constitutions explicitly make schools a state responsibility?) Anyway...Santorum said he was for "customizing education," "parental control," and "local" control.

Romney touted his education record as Massachusetts' governor, including enforcing his state's graduation exit exam, expanding school choice, and giving teachers more "opportunity for advancement." As for NCLB, he used that as an opportunity to take a shot at "federal" teachers' unions, who "don't want school choice," he said. "We have to stand up to the federal teachers' unions and put the kids first and the unions behind."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once pledged to work with the Obama administration to reauthorize NCLB and even toured with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to promote education reform ideas, said the federal role in education should involve "nothing but research." He echoed Santorum's call to return power over schools to local communities, and parents—while at the same time decrying the state of education in Los Angeles as "almost criminal" (he was particularly blaming the teachers' unions for that one). He also criticized schools of education for emphasizing pedagogy over content, and in general, doesn't like the idea of Carnegie units, state standards, and "bureaucratizing" the teaching profession. He instead likened the profession to that of being a missionary.

Meanwhile, Paul predictably said the feds have no business whatsoever in education.

With all this talk about returning power of schools to local communities, and parents, are these candidates advocating states give up spending tens of billions of dollars every year on K-12?

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