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Presidential Contenders’ Websites Skimpy on K-12 Policy

By Alyson Klein — August 27, 2015 2 min read
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Want to know where the major presidential candidates stand on K-12 education? Don’t go to their campaign websites.

A quick review of the websites of every major 2016 contender wasn’t very revealing of their K-12 policy platforms when it comes to either their past record or their plans for the future. In fact, candidates of both parties—especially Democrats—were more likely to emphasize the other ends of the education spectrum, pre-school and college readiness, not elementary and secondary policy.

Only about half of the Republican contenders mentioned education on their sites at all, and sometimes it was only a passing reference. (Like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan to create a system that “graduates more students from high school ready to work.)

Sen. Ted Cruz briefly mentioned his support of the “Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act,” which is aimed at expanding school choice to low-income students and their parents. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s site includes a video of him chatting about education policy at a recent forum in New Hampshire, sponsored by The Seventy Four, an online education news site.

A handful of the GOP contenders actually had separate sections on education, most of which focused on their opposition to the Common Core State Standards. For instance, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, said the federal government must “abolish Common Core and give control back to states, localities, and parents, and give control back to the states, localities and parents.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania each emphasize their oppositon to the standards, with Santorum calling for “Common Sense instead of Common Core.”

And Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana credits his expansion of school choice with bringing graduation rates in his state to an all-time high. (Actually, graduation rates are up nationally, not just in Louisiana. Plus, they’re a lagging indicator, so it’s impossible to credit any one policy with that improvement.)

The GOP contender with the most substantial education section? Probably Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who talks about his plans to end teacher tenure, expand charter schools, improve college readiness, and increase school choice for kids in struggling schools. (He does not mention his wish to punch teachers’ unions in their collective face.)

The Democratic contenders’ sites aren’t much more detailed. Gov. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia don’t go into detail on education, beyond Chaffee’s quick pledge to “invest in public education.”

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, talks up her plan to dramatically expand college access, but doesn’t include K-12 specifics. Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland focuses on higher education, too, but does include plans to bolster college counseling and opportunities to earn post-secondary credit for high school students.

Only former Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont’s site talks about K-12 in any detail, specifically mentioning lack of access to high quality education for black students. He notes that they are far more likely to attend schools with lots of first year teachers and or educators who haven’t attained state certification or met licensure requirements.

To be sure, it’s early going and a lack of meaty policy perscriptions on campaign sites at this point in the game is hardly unusual. Case in point: Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, didn’t have an “education” section on his campaign site until March of election year.

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