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Is Admitting You'll Cut Education the New Political Kiss of Death?

Mitt Romney's claims that he won't cut education are already coming back to haunt him.

Ever since President George H. W. Bush made his "Read my lips: No new taxes" promise at the 1988 Republican National Convention, only to raise taxes once elected and get subsequently booted out of office by Bill Clinton, it's been conventional wisdom that if a political candidate admits he plans to raise taxes on middle class Americans, he might as well forget about winning. With communities reeling from years of education cuts, could saying you're going to slash funding to public schools be becoming the modern "no new taxes" death wish?

If a new television advertisement running in swing states from Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama Political Action Committee is any indication, the answer might be "yes." The ad hammers Mitt Romney on statements and policy proposals he or running mate Paul Ryan have made that indicate they would cut early childhood education, money for K-12 schools, and cut college aid—all of which directly contradicts Romney's claim in the first Presidential debate that "I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and—and grants that go to people going to college... I'm not planning on making changes there."

Why make such contradictory statements? In late August, the 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools revealed that Americans—who've seen school art and music programs disappear and know their children are sitting in packed classrooms thanks to teacher layoffs—believe a lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing their local schools. With student loan debt greater than total credit card debt, Americans are, to put it mildly, concerned. Thus, admitting you're going to cut education could be a political kiss of death.

As Education Week's Alyson Klein notes, Romney's claim that he won't cut education is hard to swallow since he's been extremely light on his specific plans for schools. Does he mean "no cuts to any program that touches on education, including Head Start? No cuts to the U.S. Department of Education? Or just no cuts to Title I and special education? It's anyone's guess," says Klein.

What's Romney's plan to address a the financial time bomb called "sequestration" which will cause the U.S. Department of Education to lose $4.1 billion if Congress doesn't take action by January 2013? Is he on board with Paul Ryan's plans to cut Pell Grant funding for low income college students or does he still believe, as he's suggested, that students should just ask their parents for money?

Meanwhile, the American public is clamoring for straight talk on education issues. If Governor Romney really wants to get voters attention, he'd be better off sparing us the pandering "read my lips" moments and simply laying out what he actually plans to do about public education.

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