Moderate Sen. Mitt Romney and far-right firebrand Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky rarely agree. But they joined forces Thursday to attack allowing transgender youth to participate in girls’ sports.
That came during a confirmation hearing for Miguel Cardona to become secretary of education, and both senators did not like his apparent defense of the practice.
“I want to associate myself with a number of the things that were said by Sen. Paul. That’s not something I say very frequently, but he made a very, very good point,” Romney said.
As the Utah Republican spoke by video with pictures of his grandchildren in the background, he said, “They shouldn’t be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category. And I think boys should be competing with boys and girls should be competing with [girls] on the athletic field.”
That came after Paul questioned Cardona at length on the issue and asked if he would enforce an Office of Civil Rights opinion that transgender youth once considered boys should be allowed to participate in girls’ sports.
“I think that it’s critically important that education systems and educators respect the rights of all students, including students who are transgender, and that they are afforded the opportunities that every other student has to participate in extracurricular activities,” Cardona said.
“A lot of us think that that’s bizarre, not very fair,” Paul said. “Frankly, some boy that’s 6-foot-2 competing against my 5-foot-4 niece doesn’t sound very fair.”
Paul added, “You’re going to run the Department of Education. You’ve got no problem with it. That concerns me. And I think it’s this kind of thing is going to lead to … the vast majority of America just wondering who are these people that think it’s OK? What planet are you from to think it’s OK that boys would compete with girls in a track meet?”
Romney spent most of his own time for questions arguing against proposals by President Joe Biden aiming at reducing classroom size. The president has proposed to include $130 billion in the next round of pandemic relief to fund expanding the number of teachers nationally by 10%, adding 350,000 more to help have fewer children in each classroom.
“States at the very top of performance compared to those are the very bottom performance have about the same classroom size,” Romney said. “So just adding more classrooms doesn’t seem to correlate with better student performance.”
However, Cardona said, “In my experience as an educator, I can tell you when I have 15 students in front of me versus 28 students in front of me, I’m able to give more specialized attention to those 15.”
Romney said, “When I served as governor of Massachusetts, we compared 152 different school districts based on classroom size and student performance, and there was no relationship whatsoever.” He said it is more important to hire the best teachers, attracted by the best salaries possible.
Romney did not mention the state he now represents. Utah has the largest average elementary school class sizes in the country, and has for years. Some studies have shown a correlation between class size and learning, particularly among younger students.
Romney said new money for education should be focused on other areas such as giving all students better access to computers and broadband.
“These things, I think, will have a far greater impact,” he said.
Romney added the money Biden is proposing for more teachers “is something which the teachers union is very happy to receive, but which will not result in actual improvement in the scores and the performance of our young people.”