As is becoming evident, Mitt Romney choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election campaign will give a lot of ammunition to the Obama campaign, which immediately took aim, saying that Ryan has engineered budgets that “proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid.”
Inevitably, some of the spin coming out of the Obama campaign will be very true and some will be a stretch. But contrary to some of the media's reports, the claim that a Romney-Ryan ticket would devastate education spending, Head Start in particular, is a stretch. Three reasons why:
· Paul Ryan’s budget proposals from the last several years aren’t specific enough about domestic spending to propose cuts for Head Start and other education programs. Ryan’s proposed budgets from 2010 to the present don’t mention particular preschool or K-12 programs with the exception of restoring the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program that Ryan supports, in FY 2012.
· The cuts to domestic spending that Ryan does propose could be spread out among government agencies in many ways. As Clare McCann summed up in her post yesterday, the FY2013 Ryan budget targets non-defense discretionary spending. This includes everything from education to transportation spending, crop subsidies, and foreign aid. Crucially, Ryan’s budget proposals don’t specify which of these programs would take cuts. Congress would have to decide where those cuts would happen and then pass a budget containing that information. When Secretary Duncan and the Obama campaign claim that Ryan’s plan would drastically cut education, they are assuming that the Ryan budget would implement equal, across-the-board cuts to all non-defense discretionary spending. Nowhere in any of Ryan’s recent budgets does he specify that.
Given the drastic nature of past Ryan budgets—the most recent of which would plan to reduce domestic spending from its current level of 12.5 percent of GDP down to 5.75 percent by 2030-- it’s likely that some education programs would experience cuts. There are Republicans who have spoken out against Head Start, such as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) who likes to make examples of Head Start providers with financial problems. But saying that Ryan’s recent budget proposals go after Head Start and K-12 education funding isn’t correct.
· Paul Ryan has voted in favor of big pieces of education legislation in the past, including No Child Left Behind and the reauthorization of Head Start. Congress passed NCLB in 2001 during what was arguably a very different era for education, but Head Start was much more recent, in 2007, making Ryan’s vote much more telling. While the Head Start law was an authorizing piece of legislation – not a funding bill – it was designed to strengthen Head Start, not weaken it.
Much like Romney, Ryan appears to be a pretty standard, center-of-the-road Republican when it comes to K-12 education. He’s in favor of school vouchers and giving states increased control over public education. And like Romney, Ryan doesn’t talk about programs like Head Start much at all. These are dangerous omissions in their own right: There’s a good likelihood that the next President will oversee both an increasingly heated debate over how to handle the national debt and No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Education could use thoughtful advocates in the White House who can speak with authority about improving the public education system and who understand the value of having strong early childhood programs, and there currently isn’t much evidence that a Romney/Ryan White House would provide those advocates.