When Parents convened a diverse group of mothers for a luncheon roundtable a few months ago, it seemed like there would be plenty of time for President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to clarify their hopes and plans for the next four years. But in the whirlwind of corn-dog eating, baby-kissing, and finger-pointing, it's been hard to filter out the campaign rhetoric and get down to how their policies would affect families.
We took the priorities outlined in The Parents Platform to the candidates. They responded in writing—with comments so long and careful that we had to edit them for space. Check out what they had to say at press time, and then follow our bloggers' ongoing campaign coverage at parents.com/election.
Fix Our Schools Obama and Romney both think that our education system is letting children down. Obama believes we should focus on the achievement gap between the U.S. and other countries. "Many schools are crumbling, and other nations are outpacing us," he told us. A significant part of the solution, he says, will come from continuing his 2009 Race to the Top initiative, which has spurred 46 states to raise academic standards and is designed to address shortcomings in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. "Rather than burdening our states with mandates, we've got to challenge our states to adopt world-class standards that meet local needs and still bring our curriculums to the 21st century."
His ongoing commitment will also include finding funds, even in tough times. "When state budgets started shrinking and teaching jobs were on the line, we helped state and local governments with the resources to support more than 400,000 educator jobs," he says, in addition to expanding Head Start, which provides early education to low-income kids. And to achieve his goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, he's reformed student lending and expanded Pell Grants.
Romney believes that "fiscal responsibility" is the spark schools need to improve. "Despite spending more than just about every other country in the world, we lag on virtually every measure of results," he says. "To that end, we must dramatically expand parental choice over the education their children receive and unleash the power of innovation and technology to drive improvement. We must call on states to set high academic standards, hold schools and teachers accountable for results, and ensure that families and taxpayers have accurate information about school performance and spending. And we must reward effective teachers for their excellence in he classroom so that others like them will be attracted into the profession."
While recognizing the importance of early-education programs (but not mentioning Head Start specifically), Romney says, "we can more effectively spend education funding, ensuring that we reward achievement and advance best practices."
Protect Us From Environmental Hazards When questioned about his top environmental concerns, Romney said he'll work to strengthen environmental protections—and for a time he did focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in Massachusetts during his tenure as governor. "I believe there are very serious threats to our environment, both natural and man-made," he says. We asked about his position on chemical reform, which was a concern of our moms, but he did not address the issue specifically. "As president, I will make every effort to safeguard the environment, but I will also be mindful at every step of protecting the jobs of American workers." It's worth noting that the Safe Chemicals Act was approved in a Senate committee in July, but every Republican on that committee voted against it. In order for the issue to gain traction, it will need bipartisan support.
Romney was direct with us when we asked him to clarify his past remarks about whether climate change is caused by pollution. "I believe global climate change is happening and that human activity contributes to it," he says. "But it's not clear to what extent." Romney doesn't think that national mandates will help. "The best solutions lie in adopting market-based approaches. Successfully addressing the challenges of climate change requires harnessing the power of innovation."
Obama cites his environmental record on fuel-efficiency standards, clean- energy investments, and reaching agreements with emerging countries to limit emissions. "I have taken some of the most significant steps in decades to reduce pollution," he says, including the "first-ever national standards to cut down on mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants—the largest remaining source of several hazardous toxins." This will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 cases of asthma, he asserts. "When we put in place new commonsense rules to reduce air pollution, we create new jobs building and installing all sorts of pollution- control technology."
Obama stresses that making sure families and communities are protected from chemical toxins is one of his environmental goals. Indeed, his administration has championed the chemical reform legislation that he says would "ensure we're using the best available science and that unacceptable risks haven't been ignored." Without Republican support for the bill in Congress, he says he will work within existing authority to encourage the use of safer chemicals and reduce the amount of pesticides in the foods farmers grow.