Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both back more federal investment in pre-K and K-12 programs, and a focus by states on closing achievement gaps between white students and students of color, senior policy advisers to the two said during an education-focused debate Thursday.
The debate took place at the Newseum in Washington sponsored by The Committee for Education Funding, an organization that advocates for more funding of pre-K and higher education initiatives. Neither candidate attended the event. Clinton was represented by Ann O’Leary, who previously served as the vice president of The Center for the Next Generation, and Sanders by Donni Turner who previously served as the policy director for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. (Nobody from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign participated in the debate despite being invited.)
Both Clinton and Sanders have spoken little about K-12 education policies on the campaign trail. Thursday’s debate, which lasted less than 30 minutes and was livestreamed, made clear that there are few differences between their K-12 education agendas. Both candidates advocate for expanded Pre-K, wrap-around services and local decisionmaking, their advisers said.
Regarding the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which hands states greater power to shape their own school accountability systems and teacher evaluations, Turner said Sanders would push for parental involvement in the decisionmaking process.
“It’s been state-driven so far,” said Turner. “We want to make sure that there’s local input and it’s significant, that parents and students have a voice in how curriculum is set, accountability is set and what it means to graduate.”
Clinton’s adviser, O’ Leary, said that while ESSA’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, focused the right attention on achievement gaps, it overemphasized testing.
“I hope that this time around, we’re able to recognize we need to have a full curriculum for all students,” O’Leary said. “We are all for supporting districts and states figuring out what works for them.”
They both also pushed for more federal spending to help states figure out ways to close achievement gaps and to expand pre-K and access to Wi-Fi for poor families.
But neither adviser specified how the candidates planned to pay for those initiatives.
After the debate, speakers from think tanks ranging from the conservative to the left-leaning—Lindsey Burke from the Heritage Foundation, Nat Malkus from the American Enterprise Institute, and Carmel Martin from the Center for American Progress—discussed other education policies, including teacher quality, federal spending and closing achievement gaps.
Watch the entire debate here.