The 2020 presidential campaign is right around the corner—or at least on the horizon. And there’s a chance that education could be a higher-profile-than-usual issue in what’s shaping up to be a large and unwieldy Democratic primary field. Plus there are at least a couple of Republicans who might try to mount a primary challenge to President Donald Trump—or even run against him as an independent. They could use education to appeal to the political middle.
So what kind of background do many of the potential candidates have on K-12? Here’s your way-too-early cheat sheet of some possibles and probables:
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D)
As President Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden was the administration’s point man in responding to the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six staff members dead. A task force chaired by Biden recommended more than $100 million in new mental-health spending and $150 million to help schools develop comprehensive safety plans and hire school resource officers, counselors, and more. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Biden unveiled an education plan that would have provided free preschool to every child and bonuses to teachers who work in poor neighborhoods.
Members of Congress
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey (D)
Before coming to the Senate, Booker was the mayor of Newark, N.J., and one of the most prominent national Democrats to embrace private school vouchers. And he teamed up with his chief Garden State political rival, GOP Gov. Chris Christie, to help birth a new Newark teacher contract that includes merit pay. He also persuaded Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to donate $100 million to the long-struggling Newark schools. But since coming to the Senate, he’s been a lot less enthusiastic about private school vouchers—and was a leading voice against the confirmation of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio (D)
Brown introduced legislation this session to boost funding for school construction and repairs and to increase federal aid for wraparound services at schools. After a virtual charter school in Ohio shut down this year amid a scandal about reported student enrollment, Brown also asked the Government Accountability Office to take a closer look at virtual charter schools nationwide.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (D)
Last year, Gillibrand authored the Computer Science Career Education Act, which would create federal grants to help foster four- and six-year computer science programs. She’s also backed the SHOP Class Act, which would bolster “maker spaces” and hands-on learning opportunities for students in career and technical education. She’s resisted DeVos’ moves to change the federal government’s approach to Title IX, which bans sex discrimination, at schools and colleges from Obama-era policies.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California (D)
Harris hasn’t focused a lot on K-12 during her first two years in the Senate; many of the bills she’s signed on to in the chamber deal with historically black colleges and universities and college access and affordability. She also co-sponsored a bill to expand access to child care, written by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (D)
Klobuchar has introduced bills to establish a new competitive-grant program for STEM, with the goal of doubling the number of science, technology, engineering, and math secondary schools from about 100 to about 200 nationwide. She’s sought to launch a pilot program for districts to provide 12th graders with voter-registration information. She’s authored a bill that would award grants to help districts train teachers, school personnel, and other educators on mental-health conditions.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas (D)
O’Rourke, who just lost in his bid to replace Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, voted in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. He’s opposed to the idea of directing public funding to private schools and he wants additional school funding in low-income and underserved areas. The website for his 2018 Senate campaign says he wants less emphasis on “arbitrary, high-stakes” tests.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I)
Sanders ran for president in 2016 fueled in part by his support for tuition-free public colleges and universities. He was one of just a handful of lawmakers to vote against the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, although he supported the Every Student Succeeds Act. More recently, he’s told the American Federation of Teachers that the “top 25 hedge-fund managers of Wall Street make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in this country combined.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (D)
A member of the Senate education committee, Warren started a “DeVos Watch” section on her website dedicated to monitoring (and criticizing) DeVos’ actions. Elsewhere, Warren has spoken in support of the Bay State’s charter school sector because of its oversight and accountability measures, although the senator opposed a 2016 ballot measure to raise the cap on the number of charters in Massachusetts. This year, Warren told the AFT that the nation is “failing” its educators.
Current and Former Governors
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)
Cuomo just won his third term as governor, but his handling of education issues has been very controversial. He’s gone to war with New York’s powerful teachers’ union over teacher evaluation—at one point, he even vetoed a bill he’d previously backed to give educators more breathing room on those evaluations. The governor has also been a supporter of charter schools. In the 2018 primary, he defeated Cynthia Nixon, who criticized Cuomo’s handling of education funding, one of the key planks of her campaign platform.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)
As mayor of Denver from 2003 to 2011, Hickenlooper helped start the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which provides grants to needy high school students in the Mile High City. As governor in 2015, Hickenlooper signed a bill affirming families’ rights to opt out of standardized testing but said he would not eliminate testing in 9th grade. And in 2011, in his first year as governor, he proposed a $322 million cut to school funding. “There’s nothing I’ve ever grappled with as long and hard as that,” Hickenlooper said at the time, according to Chalkbeat.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D)
Two years ago, Inslee proposed a tax hike to boost teacher wages, expand early child care, fund all-day kindergarten, and more. When in 2016 the legislature passed legislation to keep charter schools open after an unfavorable court ruling, Inslee declined to sign or veto, the bill, meaning that it became law. He’s also urged Washington to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona (R)
Flake may be best known for criticizing Trump. But he supported DeVos as Trump’s nominee for education secretary, tweeting that, “she had me at school choice years ago.” And as a member of the House of Representatives in 2003, Flake introduced legislation to authorize the District of Columbia voucher program.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)
A former member of Congress and GOP presidential candidate in 2016, Kasich has been a big proponent of both charter schools and vouchers in the Buckeye State. He’s said that he’d prefer to shrink the U.S. Department of Education. In 2011, he signed legislation that would have stripped Ohio teachers of most of their collective bargaining rights, but voters subsequently struck down the legislation. He also stuck by the Common Core State Standards even as many Republicans turned against them.
A Former Mayor
Michael Bloomberg (D)
The billionaire businessman and former longtime mayor of New York City switched his party identity and registered as a Democrat earlier this year. Bloomberg was involved in everything from teacher evaluations to charter schools and generated enormous controversy in the city over his education decisions. A part of his education record was in his choice of school chancellors, Joel Klein and Cathie Black—the latter, previously a magazine executive, resigned from the post after just a few months. He’s also exerted his influence as a philanthropist on issues with varying connections to education, from school board races to gun control.
A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2018 edition of Education Week as Lining Up for 2020: Potential Candidates and Education