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Voting Jewish Values

Policies proposed by Mitt Romney, especially on education, are antithetical to fairness and compassion

Randi Weingarten
October 30, 2012
Mitt Romney listens as his running mate, Paul Ryan, speaks during a campaign rally in Powell, Ohio, on Aug. 25, 2012.(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney listens as his running mate, Paul Ryan, speaks during a campaign rally in Powell, Ohio, on Aug. 25, 2012.(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

It should come as no surprise that the latest Gallup poll shows that President Obama is carrying a 70-25 percent lead over Gov. Romney among Jewish voters. Once the undecideds break for a particular candidate, it looks like Obama will garner roughly the same percentage of Jewish votes as he did in 2008 against Sen. John McCain.

There’s a reason for this—and no, it’s not simple political affiliation. Jewish voters tend to choose Democrats because they care about Jewish values like tikkun olam, repairing the world; tzedek, justice; and rachamim, compassion. The only connection one can draw between these fundamental Jewish values and the policies proposed by Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan is that they oppose each other at virtually every turn. And no aspect of their plan better illustrates this than the Republicans’ proposals for our nation’s education system.

“I’m not going to cut education funding,” Romney promised in the first presidential debate. But that vow stands in direct contradiction to Romney’s March 20th endorsement of Ryan’s budget plan that would cut federal education budget by 20 percent. Steve Rattner, former counselor to the treasury secretary under the Obama Administration, explained in the New York Times that Romney’s own plan calls for a $2 trillion increase in defense spending, which would necessitate cuts of up to 40 percent to every other major federal program, including education.

Which specific aspect of the Romney-endorsed Ryan budget is the most antithetical to the Jewish commitment to public education? It’s hard to choose just one. Perhaps it’s the projected $5.3 trillion (yes, you read that right) reduction in overall spending, which, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, is the equivalent of “33 percent less for ‘education, training, employment, and social services’ ” in the Ryan budget proposal. That would mean less money for training, less money to invest in good teachers, and less money to spend on facilities for our students. Or perhaps it’s the $2.7 billion in cuts the vice presidential candidate recommends for Title I programs that provide educational services for disadvantaged students in high-poverty school districts, risking the jobs of as many as 38,000 teachers.

Or maybe it’s the dramatic slashes—approximately $170 billion over 10 years—that the Romney-endorsed Ryan budget recommends for Pell Grants, which provide crucial aid to more than 9 million of the nation’s most financially needy students so they can pay for college. A Romney-Ryan White House could mean that over the next decade 1 million U.S. college students would not have a fair shot.

Jewish voters’ opposition to cutting $2.2 billion for educating children with disabilities—which would lead to lost jobs for 30,000 special-education teachers—is understandable. So is their opposition to a Ryan budget that could result in the removal of 191,000 at-risk pre-schoolers from Head Start, which gives educational, health, nutrition, and social-service support for families most in need.

Education experts, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have sharply criticized the would-be vice president’s plan. At a March House Subcommittee hearing, Duncan said that “passage of the Ryan budget would propel the educational success of this country backwards for years to come.” Jewish organizations are also outraged. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a statement in March saying that his plan “would turn our backs on our obligation to care for all Americans.” The Jewish Council on Public Affairs also labeled cuts in the Ryan plan, including those in education, “completely unacceptable … [since] these assistance programs are the only thing preventing some families from falling into poverty and others from becoming even poorer.” As President Obama summarized conclusively in the first presidential debate, a Romney-Ryan ticket would lead to the “gutting” of our education system.

Our community has always placed a premium on education, and we understand that shortchanging our children is the opposite of what our history has taught us. That’s why we see that Jewish support for President Obama is growing as the disconnect between Republicans’ policies and Jewish values become increasingly clear. And on education, the distance between the two candidates couldn’t be greater.


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Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.