I'm Michele McNeil, a state policy reporter for Education Week, and I'll be tracking and discussing Republican Mitt Romney's education ideas as the presidential race continues. This is good timing for my first blog entry as I've just returned from an assignment in Utah for a story about school vouchers, where I learned about how the Mormon faith influences opinions and decisions about public schools. I think this might be instructive as we monitor the education views of Romney, who is a Mormon.
On a visit to the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City this week, I learned that Mormons, who prize the notion of family, are big supporters of public schools and only operate their own private schools in areas of the world where public education is lacking. Tonga was one example a tour guide gave me. It's worth noting, however, that in Utah, high school students who are Mormons get an hour a day of "release time" for religious instruction. Mormons are also fierce supporters of "free agency", or studying issues and making their own choices.
The two beliefs—support for public schools and freedom of choice—certainly must influence Romney. And, these beliefs create tension in the current debate over school vouchers, which often pits the ideas of public school against parental choices. It's a very hot topic in Utah, which has a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to keep, or throw out, a universal voucher program. It's also an issue for Romney, who has said he supports vouchers programs.