Mitt Romney launched a blistering attack Wednesday on President Obama and teacher unions, saying they are blocking crucial revisions to education and are hurting children, particularly young Latinos and other minorities.
Romney charged that millions of American children are getting a "third-world education" under Obama.
"And America's minority children suffer the most," he said. "This is the civil rights issue of our time. President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses and unwilling to stand up for kids."
The Republican presidential candidate said he aimed to take care of a "crisis" in U.S. education, noting that American schoolchildren rank 14th among 34 developed nations in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.
"It's the great challenge of our time," he told a Washington meeting of the Latino Coalition, a small-business group.
He proposed a series of changes, including greater choice in public education, more charter schools and digital learning, and a one-two punch of less job security for poor teachers and higher pay for better ones.
His agenda wouldn't increase federal spending for elementary and high school education. Obama proposes more federal spending.
Among Romney's ideas:
* Allow low-income and special-needs students to choose any public or charter school or private school where allowed by local law.
* Require states to open all their schools to those students to increase choices.
* Eliminate limits on charter and digital schools, also to increase choices.
"I will expand choice in an unprecedented way," Romney said.
"I will give the parents of every low-income and special-needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school if permitted.'
Romney criticized the teacher unions. "Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea," he said, "the unions protest the loudest."
"The teachers unions don't fight for our children. That's our job," he added. "And our job keeps getting harder because the unions wield outsized influence in elections and campaigns."
He suggested that Obama would be more supportive were it not for union influence: "I believe the president must be troubled by the lack of progress since he took office. Most likely, he would have liked to do more. But the teachers unions are one of the Democrats' biggest donors and one of the president's biggest campaign supporters."
Meanwhile, the biggest swing state is turning Romney's way.
In three months of polling of Florida's registered voters by Quinnipiac University, Romney has pulled ahead of Obama. A survey released Wednesday shows Romney leads Obama, 47 percent to 41 percent.