Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

A Roundup of Where the Presidential Contenders Stand on Education

By Rick Hess — January 26, 2016 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We’re days away from the kick-off of primary season. This is the point when a lot of people start actually paying attention to the Presidential contest. (While I find politics fairly captivating, I hugely appreciate those who have better things to do.) In any event, whether you’ve been following along or are just tuning in, I figured it was worth a quick spin to see what some of the major candidates have said about education. We’ll start with the four candidates who appear to be out front (Trump, Clinton, Cruz, and Sanders) and then touch on a few other notables. As Iowans gear up for the caucuses, where do things stand?

Donald Trump

The Donald has nothing about education on his website. (The only issues listed on his site are “US-China Trade Reform,” “Veterans Administration Reform,” “Tax Reform,” “Second Amendment Rights,” and “Immigration Reform.”) He said last fall on “Fox News Sunday” that he’d consider abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Of the Common Core, he’s said, “I am totally against Common Core.”

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has long been actively involved with education policy, going back to her years as First Lady in Arkansas, so it’s no surprise her website has a lot to say on the subject. A few highlights— Clinton says of the Every Student Succeeds Act that “the legislation is not perfect” but gives states and teachers needed “flexibility” while ensuring that “schools are held accountable for raising the achievement of all children.” On early childhood, Clinton calls “for doubling our investment in Early Head Start and Early Head Start-Child Care programs” and promises that new federal funding will ensure that “every four year old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next 10 years.” On higher education, Clinton proposes a “New College Compact.” It will offer free tuition to community college students and ensure that students need not “borrow to pay for tuition, books, and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state.” She said the plan “will cost around $350 billion over 10 years—and will be fully paid for by limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.”

Ted Cruz

Cruz doesn’t mention education on his website, but has said many times that he’d like to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. On the Common Core, Cruz has stated, “We need to repeal Common Core. We need to get the federal government out of the business of dictating educational standards. Education is far too important for it to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Washington.” When it comes to school choice, Cruz has said, “Imagine embracing school choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation. That every single child, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of wealth or zip code, every child in America has a right to a quality education . . . whether it is public schools or charter schools or private schools or Christian schools or parochial schools or home schooled.”

Bernie Sanders

Sanders’ website emphasizes his demand that “It’s Time to Make College Tuition Free and Debt Free.” It touches on some of his plans for doing so, with a generous helping of ALL CAPS. His six steps include, “STOP[PING] THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FROM MAKING A PROFIT ON STUDENT LOANS” and “SUBSTANTIALLY CUT[TING] STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES.” Sanders asserts, “The cost of this $75 billion a year plan is fully paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago.” Sanders has also observed on Facebook that, “Something is very wrong when, last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers.”

Marco Rubio

Rubio’s website articulates his views on a number of education questions. Regarding the Common Core, it announces, “On Day One, Marco will issue an executive order directing federal agencies to stop any and all activity related to implementing or encouraging Common Core. . . He will ensure no federal education funding is tied to mandates and prohibit the federal government from forcing states or local districts to adhere to principles or interfere in local education.” On higher education, he promises to “make existing higher education information . . . available online in an easily-accessible format to help students and families make well-informed decisions.” Rubio also promises to make Automatic Income-Based Repayment a repayment method for student loans and to “promote innovative learning programs by establishing a new accrediting entity to ensure quality of these courses, review eligibility for financial aid, and make credits transferable into the traditional system.”

Jeb Bush

Bush has a lot to say on education, befitting his long years of leadership as a governor and an advocate—here’s a highly truncated version. Bush’s site explains that he would allow families to turn existing 529 plans into tax-free, lifelong Education Savings Accounts that could be used from early-childhood programs through mid-career retraining. On early education, Bush would “allow states to give funds directly to parents and let them choose the type of education that their children actually need (day, night, weekends, center-based, home-based, etc.), rather than the type a bureaucrat is offering.” On school choice, Bush promises to “support charter school expansion,” the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, and allowing states “to make federal funds portable.” Bush also calls for “rewarding top teachers in a state’s lowest performing schools and creating individual training accounts that teachers can use to further their own profession.” On higher education, Bush says he’ll “replace the confusing, burdensome federal loan program” with a “new, income-based financing system that gives students ownership of their student aid” and the flexibility to plot their own “educational path.”

John Kasich

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, tends to frame the educational question in terms of his gubernatorial experience. His website explains, “Education is a state and local issue and should not be micro-managed by the federal government. The teaching curricula, choice of textbooks, and lesson plans that local educators use are the responsibility of local school districts—not federal bureaucrats.” In one of the season’s less controversial proposals, under the heading “Listening to Parents,” he vows, “As President, John Kasich would encourage all education leaders to seek input from parents and communities.” On school choice, Kasich’s campaign boasts, “Ohio has quadrupled the number of available vouchers and increased the number of schools whose students are eligible for vouchers.” (Yep, that’s all it says under “Expanding School Choices.” If you’re wondering, “Quadrupled from what baseline?” or “What are you actually for?”, take it up with his campaign.)

Chris Christie

Christie’s campaign website suggests that “the sweeping changes he enacted” as governor in New Jersey “can and should be a model for reform for the nation.” Christie calls for reforming tenure, promoting college readiness, providing school choice for those in failing districts, and increasing access to charter schools. Christie’s site says, “Tenure for teachers should be awarded and retained based on performance.” Christie proposes college readiness programs to help students from low-income families prepare for college by enrolling them “in transitional courses before they graduate high school” and that “students in struggling districts should have the option of attending a public school outside their district.” (It sounds like Christie’s proposals would require a pretty assertive federal role.) On higher education, Christie suggests, “Students should be able to see cost itemization for tuition, so they can know what they’re really paying for” and should also be free “to just pay for the education and not all the add-ons.”

That’s where we stand at the moment. There are, of course, some additional lagging candidates—Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Martin O’Malley, Rand Paul, and such—but you’ll have to do the legwork yourself if you want to see what they’re saying.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.