BOSTON, Mass. - Some leading Massachusetts education figures say they hope voters elsewhere will take a closer look when presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the state he served as governor from 2003 to 2007 is "number one in the nation." About the best thing the head of Massachusetts' school boards association, Glenn Koocher, can say about Romney's tenure is that he didn't worsen things.
"He could probably take credit for the fact that he inherited the highest-performing public schools in America and that he departed with the highest-performing public schools in America."
An often-touted Romney-backed scholarship giving talented students free tuition to Massachusetts colleges is not at all what it seems, Koocher explains, since tuition at Bay State colleges is extremely low. Additional fees make up the bulk of the cost of college - fees that he says actually went up under Romney. The Romney campaign had no reply to requests for comment.
Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, says there were no policy or funding initiatives under Romney - in fact, he says, state support for public schools and colleges was actually cut during Romney's time as governor.
"A lesson should be learned from people who actually had him for governor for four years - and we hope that the rest of the nation will listen - that he was not a strong public education governor here in Massachusetts."
On the campaign trail, Romney boasts about the Abigail and John Adams Scholarship he instituted, which made the top 25-percent-scoring students eligible for free college tuition at state schools. Paul Toner says tuition, fees, room and board at UMass Amherst this year come to about $23,400.
"The Adams Scholarship reduces that bill by $1,700 dollars, which is only an 8-percent reduction. That's hardly a 'free ride' for high-performing students."
Romney acknowledged to a Detroit newspaper earlier this year that "it is not entirely free," saying that even with the scholarship "you're still paying a lot of money. But it is a help."