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The K-12 Records of Some Mentioned as Donald Trump Running Mates

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 15, 2016 7 min read
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Real estate executive Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nomination for president, has done not a heck of a lot to flesh out his views and positions on K-12 education—trust us, we’ve looked and asked around a fair amount.

But at some point relatively soon, he’s going to announce his pick for vice president, and a few names are consistently mentioned as top candidates to be Trump’s running mate. Let’s take a look at some of them and their statements and records on K-12.

Newt Gingrich

Here’s one thing you might not remember or know about: Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and 2012 GOP presidential candidate, was actually pretty chummy with
President Barack Obama’s administration on K-12 issues, at least during the president’s first term. Back in 2009, Gingrich offered to help the Obama’s administration reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act by helping the House and Senate find common policy ground.

Earlier that same year, Gingrich made a show of how he agreed with the Rev. Al Sharpton on a number of education issues, such as being strong on accountability and supporting charter schools. And none other than former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hopped on board the Gingrich-Sharpton edu-collaboration tour. Gingrich also praised one of Duncan’s signature initiatives, the Race to the Top program, in 2011.

But let’s return to Gingrich’s most recent run for the presidency in 2012: Gingrich said he would sign a modified version of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and seek entrance to college or the military. But Gingrich said his preference would be for only those young people seeking to enter the military to qualify for something like the DREAM Act.

In addition, during the 2012 campaign, Gingrich said he’d like to expand school choice and shrink the U.S. Department of Education. That view about the role of the Education Department was more consistent with his positions during his time in Congress than the love he sent the Obama administration’s way during the president’s first term.

As speaker, for example, Gingrich backed a plan merging the federal education and labor departments, an idea its creators said would save $21 billion. And he backed efforts in the mid-1990s to create a school voucher program for the District of Columbia. Gingrich also made the pages of Education Week in 1995 for his support for (non-federal) programs that paid students to read. “We are trying to teach [students] that being a pimp or a drug dealer is not the only way to make money,” Gingrich said at the time.

Ben Carson

Earlier this year, Trump said Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, would play some sort of important role with respect to education in his administration. (This was after Carson ended his own presidential bid. But what if Trump picks Carson as his vice presidential nominee, and not his education secretary?

As we’ve reported before, Carson, like Trump, has singled out American students’ test scores as a prime example of how the country’s public schools are falling flat on their faces. His solution? More school choice, block grants to make it easier for states to reward good teachers, and an easier-to-handle process for student loans, among other things.

He has also questioned, at least briefly, the fairness of how property taxes are distributed to schools across the country.

And here’s an interesting education anecdote about Carson that isn’t about policy: In Gifted Hands, his autobiography, Carson describes getting a certificate at the end of 8th grade recognizing his academic achievement. The teacher at his predominantly white high school handed him his certificate, but what she did next hurt and angered Carson:

Then, to my embarrassment, she bawled out the White kids because they had allowed me to be number one. “You’re not trying hard enough,” she told them.

While she never quite said it in words, she let them know that a Black person shouldn’t be number one in a class where everyone else was White.

... Of course, I was hurt. I had worked hard to be the top of the class—probably harder than anyone else in the schools—and she was putting me down because I wasn’t the same color. On the one hand I thought, What a turkey this woman is! Then an angry determination welled up inside. I’ll show you and all the others too.

Chris Christie

The New Jersey GOP governor has been a Trump backer for some time now after his own 2016 presidential bid fell flat. And it doesn’t take too much digging to figure out Christie’s education record.

At one time he was an ardent backer of the Common Core State Standards in the face of vigorous attacks from fellow Republicans. But as his own presidential bid began

getting into gear, Christie backtracked, and he eventually expressed opposition to them—not very long after the New Jersey state school board re-adopted the standards. (Earlier this year, the board renamed the standards and made relatively minor alterations to them.)

There’s been no such ambiguity when it comes to Garden State teachers’ unions: Christie just flat-out dislikes them. In fact, he said last year that teachers’ unions deserve a punch in the face.

Christie altered the state’s teacher-tenure laws in 2012, making tenure harder to obtain than before. Last year, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the state’s decision to skip payments to the state pension system for two straight years, a big retreat from a high-profile pledge Christie made a few years ago to shore up the state’s retirement fund. And his attempts to get a handle on the Newark school district have proven to be controversial.

More recently, Christie has said he’ll require school districts to test the drinking water for lead in New Jersey’s public schools, and that the state will pick up the tab. And he also wants to require districts to lease vacant space to charters, and to speed up the renewal process for high-performing charters in New Jersey.

Mary Fallin

Like Christie, the GOP governor of Oklahoma has made some headlines because of the common core, and for pretty much the same reason. Fallin made a big speech at a National Governors Association confab at the start of 2014 in which she defended the standards against charges that they were a “federal program” or a curriculum being imposed on states from Washington.

Roughly five months later, Fallin signed a bill into law that immediately repealed the common core.

This year, Fallin was hoping to get a state-backed pay raise for teachers and shore up sources of K-12 funding, among other big education-related budget goals. Part of the idea was to help ease the state’s teacher shortage. Instead, she walked away with not very much.

Although Fallin succeeded in shielding state school aid from getting slashed, her plan to broaden a sales tax to help pay for those pay raises fell flat. And her school district consolidation plan also ran into fierce opposition.

In fact, opposition to Oklahoma’s education policy under Fallin has gotten strong enough that dozens of fed-up teachers (at least in part due to that failed attempt to raise their pay) are seeking seats in the state legislature this year. It’s part of a broader trend in which Oklahoma Democrats say this year it’s been pretty easy to get Democrats to run in elections.

Bob Corker

The U.S. senator from Tennessee, also a Republican, doesn’t have the long K-12 resume of his fellow Volunteer State lawmaker Sen. Lamar Alexander, the GOP chairman of the Senate education committee. But Corker’s gotten some attention as a possible Trump VP pick—and he does have a plan for “improving education in America.”

What’s in this plan? There are three main elements:

“Increased Teacher Pay.” The one-time mayor of Chattanooga, Corker cited a bonus-pay program that helped attract high-performing teachers to struggling schools. And he also noted that he helped secure philanthropic aid to support not only free graduate school tuitions, but forgiveness on home loans.

“Advancing Math and Science Education.” He cited his vote in favor of federal legislation for doubling the amount of money spent on basic scientific research. Corker doesn’t say so, but it’s an apparent reference to a bill to increase research funding up to $43 billion—the legislation would have also created summer academies for math and science and new scholarship opportunities, among other things. One of the prime movers behind this bill was ... you guessed it, Alexander.

“Reduced Student Loan Interest Rates.” Corker has supported efforts to expand the Pell Grant program that provides student loans to students from low-income backgrounds and additional aid to certain students seeking a career in teaching.

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