Kate Hicks

While the economy may take center stage this election season, it seems like Mitt Romney has given education reform a major role in his campaign as well. In a speech at the Latino Coalition in Washington, DC today, the presumptive Republican nominee spoke about the importance of expanding school choice, and condemned President Obama for capitulating to the will of the teachers' union.

“Here we are in the most prosperous nation, but millions of kids are getting a Third World education. And America’s minority children suffer the most,” Mr. Romney said in a speech to the Latino Coalition, a conservative Hispanic organization. “This is the civil rights issue of our era. And it’s the great challenge of our time.”

And he declared war on teachers unions, saying they “are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way.” He said Mr. Obama is too beholden to the unions to be able to reform the school system.

“President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for kids,” Mr. Romney said, accusing the president of putting the unions’ campaign donations ahead of the needs of students those teachers are teaching.

Romney also discussed his plan for education reform, drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Obama by highlighting the D.C. Opporunity Scholarship program, which Romney supports. The president sought to end the program upon taking office, as it was extremely unpopular with the unions (which, of course, helped bankroll Obama's campaign). The program no longer takes new applicants, although students who had already been participating could remain in the program.

If the unions didn't like the program, however, parents did -- especially minorities. Hispanics cite school choice and access to good education as one of their chief concerns -- hence, the venue for Romney's talk - and so the GOP frontrunner is making a very politically wise decision to play up education reform. He says he would use the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program as the blueprint for other nationwide reforms, thereby empowering parents, and forcing schools to hold higher standards.

Mr. Romney’s nationwide plan calls for giving students who receive federal education assistance the ability to choose from among any public and charter schools in their districts. He said he would push for states to offer enough options so that the choice would be meaningful.

He said he will streamline teacher-quality programs at the federal level and award them to states based on how well they promote good teachers. He also said he would demand better transparency from schools — such as a more useful grading of public schools’ performance — which he said lets parents make better choices.

Scott Walker's predicament proves that the unions will fight back, but Romney's language is harder to distort. He's not speaking about education in terms of budget cuts -- language that can be construed as "anti-education" -- but rather, he's putting the focus on parents' ability to seek the best education for their children.

So what did the White House have to say on the matter?

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of it. As I recall, education never came up in the Republican primaries in any of the debates. Or if it did, it came up almost never,” Mr. Carney said.

Ooh, burn.

Looks like this is an issue Romney will be touting throughout his campaign, and rightly so. It's an issue he can win against Obama, and more importantly, critical to all aspects of this country's future, economic and civic alike.


Kate Hicks

Kate Hicks is one of Townhall.com's web editors. You can follow her on Twitter @KateBHicks.