Education is a perennial issue in political campaigns, and the 2016 election cycle is proving no exception. In the crowded field of White House candidates, education may not be the dominant issue, but it’s gained a solid foothold. And it’s sure to be a significant factor in other 2016 contests, including those for governor, with a dozen seats up for grabs.
In the presidential primary campaign, popular issues for Republicans include sharp criticism of the Common Core and teachers’ unions, expanding school choice, and rolling back the federal role in education. Also, efforts to make higher education more accessible and affordable are beginning to gain some attention from GOP candidates, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has signaled that he will introduce a sweeping college affordability plan this fall. The most detailed plan so far has come from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He has introduced a variety of legislation on higher education, and in a major campaign speech this summer vowed to break up the “cartel” of higher education institutions by creating an alternative accreditation pathway for “low-cost, innovative competitors.”
The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are especially focused on expanding access to early childhood and higher education. Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (a political Independent and self-described democratic socialist) have rolled out ambitious and expensive plans for higher education. In fact, Sanders proposes to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Clinton stops short of that with her College Compact, a wide-ranging, $350 billion plan over 10 years to make college more affordable. Among other things, it’s designed to help students graduate from public colleges and universities debt free, lower interest rates on college loans, and create pressure for states to adequately support higher education. Meanwhile, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has outlined a plan to make college “debt free.”
The top-tier Democratic contenders have been relatively quiet about K-12 issues. Some analysts have suggested that reticence springs from a desire to avoid the splintering politics on education “reform” between teachers’ unions and their allies, on one hand, and groups such as Democrats for Education Reform and some civil rights advocates on the other.
Education is especially fertile terrain in a White House contest that features so many current and former governors, given the critical role state policymakers play in funding and setting policy for education. Those candidates have deep records on the issue for reporters to mine and examine.
Although education has received very limited attention in the GOP presidential debates (virtually none in the September event), it got extensive treatment at an August forum co-hosted by the American Federation for Children and The Seventy Four, an online education news site. Six candidates participated, including Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kasich, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has since dropped out of the race. (Here’s coverage of the event by Education Week and The New York Times.) As Education Week noted, the candidates discussed “the Common Core State Standards, teachers’ unions, the role of the federal government, the pending Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, charter schools and more.” A companion event for Democratic candidates is scheduled for October.
The campaign cycle comes as Congress is closer than it’s been in years to revamping the main federal law for K-12 education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind). Both the Republican-led House and Senate have approved versions of the legislation this year. Quite a few presidential contenders cast votes on the bipartisan Senate bill this summer, approved 81 to 17. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida voted “no.” Sen. Sanders of Vermont voted “aye.” Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina did not vote. Some of these senators did sponsor individual amendments that reveal more about their priorities. The Senate legislation curtails the federal role in education somewhat, including by loosening federal requirements for school accountability. However, it retains a federal mandate for testing all students every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school.
Meanwhile, a dozen gubernatorial seats are in play in 2016, including Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and a special election in Washington State. In November 2015, voters will select new governors for Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana; Jindal, a White House hopeful, is not seeking re-election. Other elections to watch include those for state and federal legislators, mayors, as well as elected state education chiefs and board members. In 2016, six states will hold elections for state education chiefs, including Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Washington State. Thousands of seats on local school boards will also be in play.
Furthermore, voters in at least some states likely will be asked to decide education questions for themselves through ballot measures. In prior years, education funding, expanding access to charter schools, and even teacher quality measures have been the topic of ballot questions.
This was written during the primaries.I couldn't find very much more recent than that! Which is a bit of a worry!
Trump has a dodgy record of running a university but the rest of his 'policy' for education is little better: