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Education Continues to Struggle for Airtime in GOP Debates

By Alyson Klein — November 10, 2015 2 min read
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So far, if the 2016 campaign were a third grade class, K-12 education would be the kid in the back who never gets called on. There was barely a whisper on education in the fourth Republican debate, held Tuesday in Milwaukee.

In fact, it didn’t even get a mention as something the federal government should stay out of.

Case in point: At one point during the debate, which was hosted by Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas listed the five agencies he’d like to eliminate. He named the Commerce Department twice, but didn’t say that he would also like to shutter the U.S. Department of Education. Did he change his mind about getting rid of it, or just forget to mention ED?

It seems he forgot to mention it. His campaign tweeted this during the debate:

Higher education fans got a couple of quick nods, mostly courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who reiterated his support for vocational education as a possible alternative to college.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why we stigmatized vocational education,” Rubio said. “We need more welders and less philosophers, welders make more money.” (For the record, welders make about $36,671 annually, while newly minted philosophy majors get about $39,000.)

Rubio also said the nation needs to overhaul its college and teach “21st century skills.” And he continued to flag student debt as a problem.

There were other small scraps: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said his tax plan would help teachers. And Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate developer, said we need to invest in domestic programs, like schools, before spending a lot of money abroad. He didn’t elaborate, though.

Were you putting your kids to bed/at happy hour/watching “Modern Family” reruns during the “undercard” debate? Want to know if you missed anything education-ey?

The answer is not really, even though there were a couple of new faces in the undercard crowd, Gov. Chris

Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania reiterated some comments he made at the last debate questioning whether every student should really be expected to pursue traditional college.

Christie disparaged the Democrats’ higher education plans for “debt free” college as unaffordable. (Their plans all seek to seriously cut down on student debt, but differ on the details.)

And Huckabee was really excited about a $6 donation he got from a North Dakota third grader.

Republican presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul wait before stage lights come on before the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee Tuesday night.

--Morry Gash/AP

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