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Common Core, Choice, and a Teenage Clockmaker Highlight Ed. in GOP Debates

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 17, 2015 2 min read
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Education policy barely got a sniff of the stage during the Republican presidential debates Wednesday on CNN. But here are a few highlights of when the 15 candidates did touch on K-12. They’re culled both from the main 11-candidate debate and the prior debate between the four candidates with the lowest poll numbers. Both took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

• Front-runner Donald Trump was the only candidate to directly bring up the Common Core State Standards, which was the K-12 policy star of the GOP debate last month. But Trump only touched on it in passing—in an exchange with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Trump mentioned Bush’s support for the common core, and added, “which is also a disaster.” (That’s a reprise of a previous Trump attack on Bush from June.) Bush did not respond, however.

• Bush did bring up one of his signature accomplishments while running Florida: his approval of a major school choice program. He highlighted the state’s tax-credit scholarship program as “the largest voucher program in the country.” (The scholarships in the program Bush referred to aren’t strictly vouchers.)

• Discussing a question about the minimum wage, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker argued that creating a good education system was a superior approach to helping the economy than raising the minimum wage. For a picture of Walker’s K-12 record, and how he talks about it, click here. Walker also mentioned the “big government union bosses” who opposed him in Wisconsin, a reference in part to teachers’ unions who opposed his successful push to effectively end collective bargaining for most public employees.

• The candidates discussed the possibility of shutting down the federal government, although not for reasons related to schools. But how would that impact education? My colleague Alyson Klein wrote about a government shutdown’s impact on the Education Department back in 2013.

• Candidate and pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson dismissed the idea of “free college” (a plan President Barack Obama has backed this year regarding community college) as a pipe dream, while Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas promised college graduates “with loans up to their eyeballs” that they would have jobs available to them if he becomes president.

• Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky had an extended exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about legalizing marijuana. Last year, Education Week blogger Evie Blad wrote about a study of marijuana legalization and its impact on teenagers.

• Carson and Trump got into a discussion about vaccines, whether they cause autism, and the frequency with which they should be administered to children. Last year, Evie wrote about states tightening their vaccine requirements, and this year both California and Rhode Island increased their legal requirements related to vaccines.

• Finally, one piece of very recent news made it into the first debate event between the four bottom-rung candidates: the arrest of Dallas-area Muslim teenager Ahmed Mohamed, who made a clock and brought it to school, only to be arrested by police who thought he had brought a bomb instead. Mohamed came up in light of discussion about discrimination, not education policy, and the candidates moved to focus on discrimination against Christians.

The next GOP presidential debate will take place Oct. 28 at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and will be broadcast by CNBC.

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