Blink and you'll miss it. But this week, Mitt Romney gave a big hug to academic scientists in a 35-page white paper on what the Republican presidential candidate would do to improve U.S. education.
The document, "A Chance for Every Child, " accompanied Romney's speech on Wednesday to a Hispanic advocacy group meeting in Washington, D.C. It represents his most substantive comments to date on education, a topic that has received little attention during the Republican primaries and one in which the White House feels President Barack Obama holds an edge among voters.
The former Massachusetts governor focuses most of his attention on K-12 (elementary and secondary schools) education. He accuses Obama of pandering to the teachers unions and ignoring the needs of students. In contrast, he says that federal dollars should be spent on schools that low-income students and those with disabilities have chosen to attend, rather than on their home districts.
The white paper devotes only five pages to higher education, and the bulk of that discusses the rising cost of college and proposed changes to the student loan program. But there is one paragraph that touches on a subject close to the heart of most academic researchers: federal spending on basic research.
The paragraph begins with the notable admission, "We must not lose sight of those policies that are working." It says the government's long-term investment in research has been "a crucial engine for innovation in our economy, and one that could not be replicated through other sources of funding." And it concludes with this pledge: "A Romney Administration will maintain a strong commitment to research in the physical, biological, and social sciences and to ensure [sic] that the priorities for research funding are not hijacked by short-term political imperatives."
The statement is silent on how that commitment squares with the candidate's promise to cut federal spending and shrink the overall size of government.