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K-12 Education is Lucky to Be Shut Out of This Election, Some Experts Say

By Alyson Klein — October 26, 2016 1 min read
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Tax returns, confidential emails, and unwanted groping has come up more often than K-12 education this election season.

But that actually has a big upside, some experts say.

When an issue gets dragged onto the presidential stage, it becomes politicized, giving candidates’ less room for what may end up being necessary compromise on sticky issues like charter school expansions, said Conor Williams, a senior researcher in the New America Foundation’s education policy program.

“Once this is the kind of thing that rallies your voter, it’s really hard to be an apostate” on the issue, Williams said.

And despite dismayed tweets every time education fails to show up in a presidential debate, the education advocacy community may actually be pretty happy that the issue is largely off the table, said Jeff Henig, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who focuses on education and politics.

“I think it’s probably something of a relief for many,” Henig wrote in an email. For instance, “the teacher unions expect to have better access to a Clinton administration than they did to Obama/Duncan, but that might be put at risk a bit if high campaign attention forced Hillary to demonstrate she is ‘not in the pocket’ of the unions.’”

And fans of charter schools may be glad that Trump isn’t talking much about their issue, even though he has embraced an expansion of school choice. “Most of them would prefer not to be tied too closely to his coattails,” Henig said, both because he appears likely to lose, but also because it’s unlikely he would favor a serious investment in K-12 education if he did make it to the White House.

It hasn’t been a total washout for education issues in general. Henig he notes that there actually has been a substantial amount of discussion of both early-childhood and higher education in the presidential race—more, in fact, than in the past. Higher education, for example, played big in the Democratic primary race between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

What’s more, this particular election has been so rhetorically toxic that the lack of K-12 specifics is probably a good thing, Henig said.

“This election is so corrosive in so many ways that almost every issues it touches gets mud on it rather than light,” Henig said. “I’d say we’re not losing a lot by having [K-12] off the table.”

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