In 2011, education emerged indirectly as a hot button issue during the public sector collective bargaining battles in states across the country. The bitter pill offered by Republican governors has still left a bad taste in the mouths of voters and has resulted in the recall of lawmakers and the repeal of legislation. Unfortunately for Republicans, the states that were most affected by cuts to public education happen to be critical swing states for the 2012 election. Some of the strongest and most unpopular cuts have come in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia. Losing in these states is any presidential candidate’s worst nightmare.
Team Obama knows this. Just over a week ago, the President delivered an address in Michigan, basing federal funding for universities on the university’s ability to keep their tuition down. With his penchant and proficiency for rhetoric, Obama will find quite a bit of political ammunition by bringing education to the forefront in this election year. Whatever one may think of the President as an administrator or a leader, he is a consummate politician and knows how to wield a political bludgeon when he is provided with one.
But perhaps the most important part of this equation is that Mitt Romney is setting himself up to fall right into this trap. While other candidates have boldly advocated abolishing the Department of Education, Romney has clearly shown himself to be the most timid when it comes to education reform. Like most other issues, Romney’s views on education have changed a few times over the years but the newest version of his platform is nothing more than a staid and colorless defense of the status quo. In fact, Obama and Romney generally are in agreement on several key issues, namely school accountability means and No Child Left Behind. 
But Romney obviously won’t take Obama’s education offensive lying down. Romney’s campaign has hinted that it will try to draw the debate away from education into taxes, especially when it comes to college affordability. Instead of subsidizing the universities, Romney has said that lowering taxes will enable families to more effectively save for college. While this might be a commendable policy to adopt, the President is licking his chops to skewer Romney as “a pal of robber baron professors.”
The bottom line is that Americans believe that the government has a role is providing higher education. When it comes to offering entitlements, it’s awfully rare for voters to say no. While it is a good thing that we will finally be talking about education on a national scale, there is not much reason to believe that substance of the debate will progress much further than smears and straw-mans.