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Ben Carson and Education: Five Facts to Know Before the South Carolina Primary

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 17, 2016 3 min read
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His poll numbers have fallen quite a bit from last year’s peak, but pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson is still in the presidential race as South Carolina prepares for its primaries on Feb. 20.

So where does Carson stand on various K-12 and other education issues? Here are five things you should know before the Palmetto State contest:

1. Yes, Ben Carson has an education plan.

On his website, Carson says, “The American education system is failing our children,” and points to student test scores from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s PISA exam as evidence. (Fellow GOP candidate Donald Trump also addressed those numbers recently.)

What’s Carson’s solution? He wants more school choice; empowerment for parents and districts and not Washington mandarins; “innovative ideas” for education; new block grants to allow states to reward good teachers; and a “streamlined and transparent” student loan process.

2. About college affordability, though: Carson is no fan of “free college.”

You may have heard about Democratic contender and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. But Carson is having none of that.

During a previous GOP debate, he dismissed the idea as unrealistic and misguided, as did rival Sen. Ted Cruz. He does, however, want a “reduction in tuition costs,” because student debt ultimately impacts the nation’s global economic competitiveness.

3. He once said that property taxes contribute to inequitable education, but later clarified what he meant.

In 2014, Carson told Politico that because affluent neighborhoods generate more revenue for schools, that tax structure perpetuates a system that doesn’t help upward mobility: “Wouldn’t it make more sense to put the money in a pot and redistribute it throughout the country so that public schools are equal, whether you’re in a poor area or a wealthy area?”

But when asked about those remarks last year, Carson said to CNN that he didn’t favor significant wealth redistribution as a general principle, saying that “the great divide between the haves and the have-nots is education.”

On Facebook last year, Carson also said, “I do not support the national pooling of property tax receipts.”

4. Carson is a fan of Title I funding.

In that same Facebook post, he also expressed support for Title I funding, the U.S. Department of Education’s single largest grant for K-12 that is targeted at disadvantaged students.

He wrote that he supports Title I in order “to raise up poor inner-city and rural schools to a level where these children can get the education they deserve.” Carson didn’t specify, however, whether he wants more Title I money for education than what schools currently receive.

5. Confronting gunmen like the Oregon community college shooter, Carson says, is the right idea.

After a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left 10 people dead last October, Carson said that people in the middle of such attacks should not be passive.

“I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,’” Carson told the Associated Press.

That remark proved to be controversial, and led to, among other responses, a post about his comment from Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers on the Leadership 360 blog at

BONUS: Since 1996, the Carson Scholars Fund has awarded $1,000 college scholarships to students demonstrating strong academic achievement, and has also supported Ben Carson Reading Rooms in schools to promote students’ “independent leisure reading.” Over the past 20 years, the organization has donated $4.2 million in scholarship awards.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson addresses supporters at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich. last September. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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