Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared at a multi-day "Education Nation" event co-hosted by NBC News in New York City at the infamous public library to say that he favored school choice, controversial merit-based teacher pay and even went so far as to suggest that teachers unions should not be allowed to contribute to political campaigns.
Romney praised Massachusetts' reforms that emphasized teachers while he served as governor. "Perhaps the single most important thing from the education reform effort that went on was an increased focus on the teachers, on hiring the very best and brightest we possibly could, promoting them and giving them the very best opportunities we could in the classroom."
When talking about early childhood education, "The involvement of parents -- particularly where there can be two parents -- is an enormous advantage for the child. ... Even then to have one parent that stays closely involved in the education of the child and can be at home in those early years of education can be extraordinarily important."
But the real meat of Romney's remarks came when he talked about teachers unions. "I understand the interest of the teachers union," Romney told NBC's Brian Williams on Tuesday. "The teachers union has every right to represent their members in the way they think is best for their members. But we have every right to in fact say, no this is what we want to do, which is in the best interest of our children."
"We don't just presume that because we've been here for a certain number of years that we should get more and more pay every year. Instead, we get measured. If teachers say there's no good measurement system, well we say let's look for one," Romney continued.
"Education is about teachers, great leadership and parents, and the union has a different objective. I understand. It's fine for them to promote it. It's not fine for us to just go along with it," Romney said.
When New York City parent mentioned that parents support teachers unions in New York three to one, Romney responded, "I don't believe it for a minute. I know something about polls. I know you can ask questions to get any answer you want."
"Jeb Bush stood up to the teachers unions in Florida and that made a difference," Romney said. "We simply can't have a setup where the teachers unions can contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interests of the kids. I think it's a mistake. I think we've got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We've got to separate that."
Romney also noted that "higher education is also essential to the well-being of our economy and the success of our fellow citizens ... but one trend that gives me cause for concern is the rapid growth in the cost for tuition." Romney said "we're on an unsustainable path. You can't have higher education tuition grow at a multiple of the rate of inflation. At some point, something has to give. And we're going to have to find a solution to that problem. I have ideas myself in that regard. I do believe this is something that just can't go on."
Romney's higher education platform has thus far contained few details, but it does call the current system of federally subsidized grants and loans "needlessly complex" and calls for a return to bank-based student lending, which would reverse a 2010 change that was designed to be deficit-reducing.
President Barack Obama, in a pre-filmed video with the "Today" show broadcast on Tuesday, said, "I think Gov. Romney and a number of folks try to politicize the issue and do a lot of teacher-bashing."
"You know, I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform," Obama said during the interview. "My sister is a former teacher, and I can tell you that they work so hard ... what is absolutely true is if we've got a bad teacher, we should be able to train them to get better, and if they can't get better, they should be able to get fired."
Nevertheless, Obama still defended controversial education reforms. "Let's make sure we've got the resources, so i'm glad it was resolved, but I do think that from the perspective of Democrats we can't just sit on the status quo or say that money's the only issue. Reform is important also."
Watch the video, broadcast by NBC News on Sept. 25.