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Preview the GOP Presidential Debate: What to Expect on Education

By Lauren Camera — August 06, 2015 5 min read
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With the roster finally set for Thursday night’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate, what should the edu-world expect from the top 10 candidates?

Well, we got a bit of a preview of what may transpire during the GOP candidates’ forum held at Saint Anslem’s College in Manchester, N.H., on Monday night. And—surprise, surprise—the headline there was the Common Core State Standards.

Expect that to be the name of the game again Thursday, with potentially a pinch of higher ed.

Of course we all know the real reason you’ll be watching: The Donald, aka real estate mogul Donald Trump, who splashed onto the GOP presidential-contender scene back in June and has been offending his way to the top of the polls ever since.

Despite his fondness for bashing opponents, Trump has promised to keep it classy Thursday evening. Unless, of course, someone goes after him first, in which case all bets are off.

So far this edu-election season, Trump has slammed rival and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for his support of the common core and ripped into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another candidate, over education funding cuts in his state.

But Trump is hardly the only candidate who’s gone after Bush for his continued backing of the standards. Nearly the entire GOP field has launched a couple of anti-common-core missiles Bush’s way, with the exception of Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, all of whom oppose the standards just the same.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems to be the only other Republican presidential hopeful who also supports the common core.

So, who made the cut for the premier Republican debate and what might they say about education? Here’s a quick run-down.

Donald Trump: Trump doesn’t have a long record on education, though he did run his namesake and now-shuttered for-profit college, Trump University. If he says anything at all about education other than the common core, expect him to stick to general Republican talking points, like the need for more school choice.

Jeb Bush: Having overseen some major changes to Florida’s education system and later founding a national K-12 policy group, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Bush has the longest education record of them all. He’s most known for successfully pushing his state to adopt the A-Plus Plan, which required schools to be held accountable using A-F letter grades and established a new series of standardized tests to measure students’ academic performance. The plan also instituted new “Opportunity Scholarships” that allowed students greater freedom to attend schools of their choice through vouchers.

Scott Walker: Look for Walker to tout his success in turning Wisconsin into a “right to work state,” ditching teacher tenure, and paying teachers based on performance. He’s credited those changes with increased student achievement, including on ACT test scores.

Ted Cruz: In his speech announcing his run for president, the Texas senator said, “Imagine repealing every word of the Common Core.” The standards foe was an active player in the recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization debate in the Senate, during which he offered (and the Senate rejected) an amendment that would have allowed states to opt out of the federal K-12 law while still collecting the federal dollars for it.

Mike Huckabee: While governor, Huckabee boosted spending on K-12 education, even raising taxes to do so. And since leaving office he’s been a proponent of the power of arts education, including at the GOP convention in 2012. In the past, he’s culled lots of support from home schoolers, so a shout-out to that voting bloc wouldn’t be too surprising.

Ben Carson: Carson, a neurosurgeon, might have the least education policy chops of all the GOP candidates. On his website, he takes typical Republican stances, including criticizing the common core and rolling back the role of the federal government.

Marco Rubio: Like most Republicans, Rubio is a big proponent of charter schools. He’s also proposed federal tax credits for private schools, and teamed up with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on a bill to create “American Dream” accounts that help low-income students prepare for college.

Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator, a Tea Party firebrand, has long called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education. Short of that, he’d like to see the common-core standards nixed and is a big supporter of allowing Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice, including private schools. We might see Paul try to turn an education conversation into a conversation about the need to overhaul the criminal justice system, including for juveniles. He’s been making a big push for that along with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

John Kasich: Like Walker, Kasich has tried to curb the collective bargaining rights of teacher, though so far he’s been unable to do so. Most notably, however, he has increased state spending on education, including for the state’s school voucher program and for charter schools, and he signed a new A-F accountability system for schools into law in 2013.

Chris Christie: As New Jersey governor, he’s made tenure harder to obtain and has attracted a lot of attention with his efforts to turn around the Newark school system. Christie recently made waves in the education field during a CNN interview in which he said teachers’ unions deserve “a punch in the face” and are “destructive.”

Some things we’ll be watching for: Will Bush and Kasich continue their support for the common core? If so, how much flak will they take for it? How will the three senators with similar education agendas differentiate themselves? Will the ESEA reauthorization efforts come up? Will U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan get name-checked for “coercing” states into adopting certain education policies?

In addition to the main event, there’s an undercard debate of sorts for the candidates outside the top 10, which starts at 5pm. Those participants include:

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