Mitt Romney promised to make "bold policy changes" in his first major education policy speech before a group of Latino small business owners gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters Wednesday in Washington.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told members of the Latino Coalition that President Obama likely wanted to do more to improve the public education system, but has his hands tied due to his reliance on teacher union campaign donations.
"I believe the president must be troubled by the lack of progress since he took office," he said. "But the teachers unions are one of the Democrats' biggest donors—and one of the President's biggest campaign supporters. So, President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses—and unwilling to stand up for kids."
Romney vowed to empower parents with "school choice," a popular GOP education buzzword, and reward states that improved teacher effectiveness.
"For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted," he said. "States will be rewarded if they regularly evaluate teachers for their effectiveness and compensate the best teachers for their success."
The former Massachusetts governor also said states would be required to "provide provide a simple-to-read and widely available public report card that evaluates each school."
"These report cards will provide accurate and easy to understand information about student and school performance," Romney said. "States will continue to design their own standards and tests, but the report cards will provide information that parents can use to make informed choices."
The Romney campaign also announced he would be traveling to a charter school in Philadelphia Thursday in order to hold an education roundtable. Romney also released an education white paper on his website.
Obama's approach to education reform has been his "Race to the Top" program, which dangled large chunks of federal funding out for states' to compete for, and rewarded those that moved towards expanding charter school access and performance-based pay for teachers.
Both Obama and Romney have cited flaws in President George W. Bush's signature education policy, known as 'No Child Left Behind' that took a top-down approach.
Education policy has long been a difficult area for presidents of either party to tackle because local municipalities, school districts, counties and states can all have roles in what funding is available, allocated and distributed. Many Republicans, including Romney, have called for less of a federal role in education.
Some GOP presidential candidates, such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, called for the elimination of the Department of Education.
Romney did not mention immigration policy during his address to the Hispanic businessowners, nor was he asked about it during a brief question-and-answer period. During the primary, Romney staked out one of the most conservative immigration positions and has struggled to woo Latino voters, considered a key voting demograophic, away from Obama. A national Wall Street Journal-NBC News-Telemundo poll of Latinos released Wednesday showed Obama leading Romney 61 percent to 27 percent.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.