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Hot Education Topics and the Democratic Debate: What to Know

By Evie Blad — October 14, 2019 3 min read
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Education has been a notably visible issue in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with candidates regularly discussing topics like charter schools, teacher pay, and college affordability.

But is education enough of a priority to make another appearance in a primetime debate? Here’s what’s happened in 2020 education talk since the candidates last faced off, and more resources you might find helpful.

What are the 2020 candidates’ positions on education issues?

Want to know what a 2020 presidential candidate—Democrat or Republican—thinks about education issues? Check out Education Week’s interactive tracker, which allows you to sort by candidate or topic to see what politicians how candidates have voted, what they’ve said, and what they’ve proposed on a whole range of education issues. We plan to update the tracker until Election Day.

The biggest recent education story: Elizabeth Warren’s teaching history

The most recent education moment in the campaigns has centered on Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s year as a young K-12 teacher. Warren’s professional history came under scrutiny this month when some conservative outlets questioned her claim that she left that position because of pregnancy discrimination.

The entire discussion placed a big spotlight on the obstacles pregnant women, and pregnant teachers, face in employment. As Education Week’s Madeline Will wrote recently, teachers really were fired when they were pregnant in decades past.

Perhaps more interesting for Warren is how, despite not yet releasing a K-12 education plan, she’s used the resume item to try to appeal to teachers. We explored what that means and whether it’s an effective pitch for educators.

Candidates continue to spar with Betsy DeVos

Most of the Democratic candidates have continued to poke at current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose combination of low popularity and high name recognition have made her a tempting target on the trail. Several candidates mentioned DeVos in a recent CNN forum on LGBT rights, singling out her decision to rescind guidance about the civil rights of transgender students.

Those candidates included Warren, who also recently criticized how DeVos has handled a dispute over student loan forgiveness. DeVos responded with an uncharacteristically pointed tweet that referenced the controversy over Warren’s teaching history.

It’s worthwhile to note that, as her name has been at the center of education arguments, DeVos has stayed the course. On a recent tour, she promoted “education freedom,” pushing a school choice vision that’s even more dramatic than what some candidates have shunned.

The latest K-12 education plan

The latest candidate to release a K-12 plan is California Sen. Kamala Harris. She had previously focused much of her education comments on her plan to use federal funds to raise teacher pay and her criticisms of former Vice President Joe Biden’s record on opposing some desegregation efforts.

Harris’ plan addresses those issues, and it calls for state “equity audits,” universal child screenings for trauma exposure, and a return to the more aggressive education civil rights enforcement approach of the Obama era.

Speaking of Joe Biden ...

Perhaps the most noteworthy moment in the flood of education talk at the last debate was Biden’s sprawling answer to a question about race, in which he confused the audience by mentioning record players. Biden was talking about addressing the so-called “word gap” between poor children and their wealthier peers through home visiting programs, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t understand that. We explained word gap research and why Biden’s answer caused some consternation.

So when is the Democratic debate?

Twelve candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination will cram onto one Ohio stage Tuesday for their party’s fourth primary debate. CNN and the New York Times are moderating the three-hour event, which starts at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be livestreamed on the CNN website. While you watch, follow Politics K-12 on Twitter to keep up with any mentions of education and related issues.

If education does make a big appearance Tuesday, you can bet we will analyze every word.

Photo: Getty


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

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