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At GOP Convention, Even Some Delegates Clueless on Trump’s Education Stance

By Alyson Klein — July 19, 2016 2 min read
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Are you mystified as to where Donald Trump stands on education policy?

So are some of the people attending the convention here, where Donald Trump officially received the GOP presidential nomination Tuesday.

“I don’t know what his views are on education,” said Sue Sharkey, a member of the board of regents for the University of Colorado and a delegate from the Centennial State who supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Republican primary. “I don’t think he’s really put a lot of thought into it. And I think his understanding of educational issues is probably pretty shallow.”

Jonathan Hayes, a 20-year-old alternate delegate from Pennsylvania, is on the same page.

“The bombastic rhetoric of Donald Trump has overtaken” any talk of education, said Hayes, who had been hoping that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would get the GOP nomination. “I don’t think he has education listed as an issue on his website. So I’m very disappointed in that.”

Hayes, a history buff who wore a hat with a button celebrating every GOP

nominee from President Theodore Roosevelt to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, is a first-generation college student. He sees education as critical to advancement, which is why he’s especially disappointed about the lack of specificity on the issue from Trump.

So far, the convention speeches haven’t helped matters, even though some of Tuesday’s speakers, such as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Speaker of the House, have long education records. In fact, the biggest K-12 moment of the night came from Donald Trump, Jr., who said his father would go big on school choice and attack teacher tenure.

Even some members of Congress here are in the dark.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, said he “didn’t know” where Trump stands on education, but quickly added that he’s hopeful that a possible President Trump would embrace the local-control spirit of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, the law to replace No Child Left Behind that passed late last year.

“He’s an unknown as a candidate, and there are positives with that,” Davis said in an interview at a small reception hosted by the National Education Association for Republicans with whom it has a good working relationship. “Hopefully he’s going to listen to the folks who have worked in public policy before he got into politics.”

Davis isn’t the only lawmaker in wait-and-see mode. The two most important Republicans in Congress on K-12 issues—education committee chairmen and ESSA architects Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—told me earlier this summer they didn’t know where Trump stands on K-12 policy.

Alexander, though, sounded more optimistic in an interview in Cleveland this week. He told me he asked Trump about ESSA when the mogul met with Republican senators, and got an assurance that the presumptive nominee was “very much for local control.” (Kline, who will retire from Congress at the end of this session, didn’t plan to be at the convention.)

Want the most comprehensive look at where Trump, and for that matter, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton stand on K-12 policy? We’ve got you covered in this interactive graphic.

Photo by Swikar Patel for Education Week.

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