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GOP Debate: Candidates Talk Detroit Public Schools, Common Core

By Alyson Klein — March 04, 2016 2 min read
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If you’ve been holding your breath for seven months waiting for an education question in a GOP debate, you can let it out.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich was asked in Thursday’s debate whether the federal government should bail out Detroit’s nearly bankrupt schools, like it did for the automobile industry.

Kasich likened Detroit’s situation to a school district in his own state—Cleveland, which unlike Detroit is under mayoral control.

Cleveland went through a dramatic revamp 2012, including some big changes to teacher contracts that gave the district more say over teacher tenure decisions and dismissals and a new approach to turning around low-performing schools. And so far, results have been mixed: The city has seen some gains in fourth grade reading between 2013 and 2015 on the Trial Urban District snapshot, but no improvement in eighth grade reading.

“This is not much different from what happened in Cleveland,” Kasich said. “Cleveland schools are coming back because of a major overhaul. It’s the same thing that has to happen in all of our urban schools.”

Kasich quickly pivoted to his education plan, which calls for combining all federal education funding into four (still unspecified) block grants. “Fixing schools rests at the state and the local level and particularly at the school board level,” Kasich said.

And he added that students need school choice, both vouchers and charter schools. However, under Kasich, charter schools in Ohio have been investigated by both the FBI and the state.

Kasich, who ignited the ire of teachers’ unions in the Buckeye State when he tried unsuccessfully to severely limit unions’ right to collectively bargain in 2011, urged the nation to “put the politics aside” when it comes to education.

“Everyone in this room can play a role in lifting their schools and lifting the students in those schools because too much politics gets in the middle of it,” he said

Kasich may not have made big news. But the question itself was something of a big deal, in part because, well, there was an actual question on education in a Republican debate. The last time that happened was seven months ago, in the very first GOP showdown, when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is no longer in the race, was asked about his pro-Common Core stance.

Billionaire and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump also brought up his plan to help gain control of federal spending by getting rid of the Department of Education—that’s something that Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida also want to do. The moderators pointed out that axing the department wouldn’t save much since its budget is less than $80 billion. (It’s actually about $68 billion.)

Oh, and Trump repeated a favorite line about how he’ll get rid of Common Core if he’s elected. (Rubio and Cruz have made similar promises.) But that’s a moot point now that the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act bars the federal government from telling states what set of standards to use. Cruz opposed ESSA, and Rubio voted against a similar Senate version.

For you higher education fans, there was also plenty of talk about Trump University, a for-profit real estate course that’s been the subject of fraud allegations.

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