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Are Clinton’s and Trump’s K-12 Proposals Really Late?

By Alyson Klein — July 11, 2016 2 min read
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When it comes to putting out a comprehensive plan on K-12 education, Hillary Clinton circa 2008 was way, way ahead of this year’s version.

Clinton, who is now the presumptive Democrat nominee, has a detailed, specific plan on just about every policy under the sun, including early childhood education and college access. She’s also released proposals on the school-to-prison pipeline and education technology. Still, it’s July and she hasn’t yet put out a point-by-point proposal on K-12.

She has mentioned some ideas during her speech to the National Education Association and the Democratic primary debates, including “SWAT teams” for school improvement, a new investment in teacher quality, raising educators’ salaries, and offering more wrap-around services for students, such as access to mental health services. But we’re still waiting for details on those ideas.

Contrast that with Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign. By November 2007—that’s right, essentially seven months before this point in the presidential campaign cycle—Clinton had a very detailed proposal on how she was going to cut the dropout rate in half. She wanted, for instance, to funnel $500 million a year into teacher recruitment and retention bonuses.

She wasn’t even the first Democratic candidate to release a detailed K-12 platform that year. Obama put out his own plan a week before Hillary’s. And then-Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., had his plan out as early as August 2007.

Clinton is also behind the eight ball compared to other recent Democratic nominees. John Kerry, who got the party’s nod in 2004, put out his K-12 plan in May of that year. (He was pushing for smaller high schools, and more challenging education standards.) And Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, had proposals out as early as May 1999 that called for spending more than $100 billion on early childhood education, teacher quality, and more. Gore even spoke with Education Week about them.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, is also late to the dance compared to recent nominees. By this point of the game in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney had outlined some big K-12 ideas, namely allowing federal money to follow students to the schools of their choice.

And in 2000, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, put out a detailed proposal for a big new investment—$13.5 billion over five years—in literacy and teacher quality. The 2008 GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain put out his proposal in mid-July—so Trump would have to move pretty quickly to stay on that timeline.

The bigger question: Are Clinton and Trump’s K-12 education plans just really tardy this cycle? Or are they not coming at all? And is that because the Every Student Succeeds Act put big federal K-12 policy questions to rest, at least for now? Is it because the issue has become somewhat toxic and touchy? Or is it because this just isn’t really an election about ideas? The comments section is open!

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