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A Syllabus for the Next Democratic Debates: School Police, Race, and Teacher Pay

By Evie Blad — July 29, 2019 4 min read

If past is prologue, it might be a good idea to study up on some of the education issues that could appear in the second Democratic presidential debate, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday on CNN.

The education topics that were raised in the first round—school safety, social-emotional learning, and the complicated history of school desegregation efforts—have long histories. Indeed, we spent the week after that round untangling the context and impact of California Sen. Kamala Harris’ challenge to former Vice President Joe Biden over his support for anti-busing bills in the 1970s.

Want to be ahead of the game this time? Let us help you study up on some education issues that might emerge this week in Detroit so you can sound smart and prescient. Here’s a reading list on some things that might arise.

Desegregation Debate, Part Two?

When it comes to debate predictions, we’ve got a pretty good track record. A few days before the last debate, we published a dive into Biden’s history with school desegregation efforts. When those efforts took center stage, we followed up with a look at the issue, including Harris’ own position and President Donald Trump’s strange and confusing comments about it.

Harris and Biden will once again share a stage on the same night, along with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who has criticized the former vice president on his handling and understanding of racial issues in recent weeks. The talking heads on cable news say it’s unlikely that Harris will raise the issue directly again. But it may come up if Biden is pressed to defend his record on race and civil rights.

Charter Schools

Charter schools remain a hot topic for Democrats. Since the last debate, a group of charter school supporters and operators sent an open letter to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, warning that his plans to rein in charter schools could harm students of color.

Booker, who has avoided much discussion of his pro-charter record as Newark mayor, may be asked about the publicly funded schools of choice this time. His brother, who once co-founded a failed charter school in Memphis, recently made headlines when he was hired by New Jersey’s Democratic governor to lead the state’s early-childhood education efforts.

And former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, whose wife has worked in the charter sector, was very careful when he was asked about charter schools at an American Federation of Teachers event.

Teacher Pay and Teacher Diversity

Nearly every K-12 plan released so far includes mentions of teacher pay, and many mention the need to make systemic efforts to train, recruit, and retrain more teachers of color. The topics have been touched on by candidates including Biden, Sanders, Harris, Massachussetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, fomer U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro, and others. Those issues are urgent for many education leaders as schools enroll an increasingly diverse student body and as they struggle to recruit qualified teachers in some areas.

Here are a few recent examples:


  • O’Rourke released an education plan that includes a permanent $500 billion federal fund that would be used to boost equity between school resources and student outcomes. Returns from that fund would also be used to “pay teachers professional wages,” his plan says, and his administration would work with minority-serving insitutions, like historically black colleges and universities, to train more teachers of color.
  • South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a racial equity plan that includes proposed new federal reporting efforts about schools’ teacher diversity efforts.

School Police

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would not bring federal charges against a New York City police officer for the 2014 choking death of Eric Garner.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has sought to position himself as a candidate concerned about justice and equality, may be asked about Garner’s death and his own handling of police reforms in the city. Police issues are a concern for schools as well, and de Blasio recently responded to the demands of student activists who’ve been pushing for years for changes to the discipline policy and police agreements in the nation’s largest school district. Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk covered changes to school policing in New York and Chicago here.

Bonus Reads!

Photo: Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wave before the start of a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami. --Brynn Anderson/AP


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

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