Research & Commentary: Democratic and Republican Party Education Platforms

Published September 12, 2012

In 2012, the Republican and Democratic parties held their national conventions sandwiched around Labor Day weekend. As is customary, the two released revised party platforms, both including sections on education policy.

The Democratic Party platform largely supported and praised President Barack Obama’s education policies, including support for national education standards, increased spending on education (particularly teacher salaries), reducing the minority achievement gap, and government-controlled school options such as charter and magnet schools. It claims early childhood education, such the federal Head Start program, is necessary to put students on a path to college. The party supports policies aimed at making the United States lead the world by 2020 in the share of population graduating from college.

The Republican Party platform mirrors policies supported by its presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. These stem from Romney’s stated philosophical preference for parents as the prime authorities over their children’s education and upbringing, which leads the party to support a wide variety of public and private school choice, including charter schools, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships. The platform endorses several specific policies, including ending “last in, first out” requirements for teacher hiring and retention, government guarantees but not issuance of college loans, and core-content-focused curriculum.

Commentators have noted the two parties diverge most directly on government spending and on private school choice. The Democrats’ platform calls for more spending on education in nearly every area, whereas the Republican platform notes massive increases in education spending have done nothing to improve education outcomes, calling instead for choice as a mechanism to improve results and save tax dollars. The Democratic platform supports school choice only within government school systems, denying lower- and many middle-income families the choice of private schools. The Republican platform embraces choice of both public and private schools.

The following documents offer more information on the 2012 Democratic and Republican Party education platforms.


What Democratic Platform Says on Education
The Washington Post compiled the portions of the Democratic Party platform related to education into this document. The party reiterates its commitment to education as “the surest path to the middle class” and ensuring the United States has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. To do this and reduce the minority achievement gap, it says, requires more spending on early childhood education, including Head Start. The platform supports Common Core national education standards, turning around public schools, and establishing additional public school options such as charters and magnets. It also praises Obama’s efforts to send more federal dollars to schools to hire or retain teachers.

What the GOP Platform Says on Education
The Washington Post posted the Republican Party’s platform on education in this document. It names parents as those primarily responsible for children, and because of this supports offering families as many education options and freedoms as possible, including vouchers, charter schools, and education tax credits. It emphasizes choice, teacher and school accountability, high expectations for students, and content-focused curriculum. It criticizes “last in, first out” policies, calling for them to be replaced with merit-based teacher hiring and retention. The platform recognizes parents, local authorities, and states as the primary agents governing education policy, not the federal government. It also calls for trustees to reduce entrenched ideological bias in state universities, the federal government to guarantee but not originate student loans, and for higher education to return to a focus on job preparation.

Democratic Platform Hails Common Core, Praises Teachers
The Democratic Party platform’s sections on education express pride in Obama’s support for Common Core education standards and his push for more federal spending on teacher salaries, reports Education Week. The article also highlights Democrats’ support for increasing higher education subsidies and “carefully crafted” teacher evaluations.

Democratic Tensions Over School Choice, Parent Trigger in Charlotte
A growing number of Democrats support school choice and reform mechanisms such as the Parent Trigger, reports Ron Matus from the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. The party’s historic alignment with teachers unions and in favor of complete government control of education means interparty tensions on the topic.

DNC 2012: Pro-School-Choice Democrats Have the Momentum
For decades, the political Left supported giving parents, especially minority and poor parents, access to broader school choice, notes Doug Tuthill for RedefinED. That support eroded after the nation’s largest teachers union gave its first presidential endorsement to Jimmy Carter in 1976, but it has been making a comeback as the disproportionate negative effects of poor schools on the poor and minorities becomes increasingly obvious.

Common Core State Standards Dividing GOP
Republican convention delegates were divided over Common Core education standards, with some opposing them as a President Obama-led federal intrusion and others supporting them as state-led and of good quality, reports Education Week. The standards did not make the party’s 2012 platform despite grassroots activists proposing several planks on the subject.

School Choice, and Cultural Identity, in GOP Platform
The Republican Party education platform supports school choice as an empowering mechanism for families to pass on their cultural identity and morals to their children, writes Sean Cavanaugh for Education Week. It also highlights school choice as a strategy for academic improvement and consumer empowerment. The central message is that families suffer when the government consolidates power, he writes.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].