How Much Does Your Presidential Candidate Care About Education?

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(That's not a loaded question. We're actually going to tell you.)

We are deep in the throes of the presidential primaries. Delegates are starting to add up. Leaders are emerging from the pack. Our collective patience is wearing thin. Tis the season.

At this stage in the game, we've had a chance to meet the candidates, to learn where they stand on key issues, to figure out which Saturday Night Live cast member is best suited to portray each competitor should he or she ascend to the Oval Office.

To be sure, this has been among the more rancorous preliminary contests in recent memory, often descending into something halfway between Wrestlemania and a Jerry Springer-mediated child custody dispute.

With no fewer than 20 debates now behind us (12 for the GOP and 8 for the Dems), we've gotten about as good a look as we're going to at each of the candidate's top priorities. Immigration issues, terror prevention, healthcare policy, and Wall Street reform have taken center stage as we approach this summer's nominating conventions.

But lost amid the lofty promises, viral follies, and vitriolic name-calling is the small matter of our education. In an election year that could do so much to shape our nation's future, there has been precious little meaningful discourse on students, teachers, and schools. Really, this is something that should be alarming to voters on either side of our two-party plurality.

For its part, the media has done so little to carve out a place for educational reform in this year's election coverage that we just assume the subject doesn't get primetime ratings. But we're more than happy to step into the lurch with a blow-by-blow rundown of each remaining candidate's stated policy on education.

Because we wish to avoid conveying bias to whatever extent possible, we have chosen to let the issues speak for themselves. And because we also recognize that secondary media sources may themselves promote bias, all of the information hereafter is drawn entirely from campaign websites officially maintained by the six candidates themselves. We feel it appropriate to let John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton speak for themselves. We've also included Florida Senator Marco Rubio's positions on education in spite of the fact that he suspended his campaign after being vanquished in his home state on March 15th.

Any variations in detail and length of discussion pertaining to candidates are directly reflective of variations in the way that said candidates have chosen to represent their interest in educational policy. Take it as you will.

Candidates are presented in reverse order of their delegate count as of March 15th, 2016.

Candidates for the Republican Nomination

John Kasich—Governor, Ohio

John KasichFor what it's worth, Ohio Governor John Kasich is the lone Republican candidate who lists education as a top priority for his campaign. It appears third overall on his menu of issues.

Kasich says that his plan would closely reflect his educational policy as Ohio's chief executive. His basic premise is that local school districts, rather than the federal government, should be responsible for shaping curricula, choosing textbooks, and producing lesson plans. The Governor also said that he would work to supplant federally-mandated learning standards with those derived in-state.

Kasich pledges to take further steps to protect student privacy, to provide parents with opportunities to shape education in their communities, and to expand school voucher programs. Kasich's platform also identifies the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” as an important goal both in his home state and nationwide. Additionally, Kasich would institute an early warning system to help parents, educators, and advisors identify and assist students who are at risk of dropping out.

With respect to higher education, Kasich calls for a two-year freeze on tuition hikes, during which time a task-force will be dispatched to explore ways of redressing America's skyrocketing college costs.

Kasich believes that “For American students to be prepared for success in an increasingly competitive global economy, they must receive strong education support from parents and educators, including high expectations—especially in math and English.”

Marco Rubio—Senator, Florida

Marco RubioAmong Republican candidates, Marco Rubio appears to have devoted the most expansive attention to education. His list of Issues included three separate links devoted to the subject. Some priorities were more nuanced than others, but in sum, the junior Senator did offer the most detailed way forward on education among Republican candidates. With his campaign now suspended, these details amount to very little in spite of formulating the most comprehensive of Republican plans.

That said, Rubio's top issue—one that he notes he has pursued doggedly as a Senator—is the repeal of Common Core.

Rubio promised that “on day one” of his presidency, he would issue an Executive Order to put an immediate stop to any and all activities related to Common Core.

Rubio declared that he would “give states and local communities complete autonomy in education decisionmaking [sic] and get rid of Washington bureaucrats who impose education standards and curriculum on our nation's children. He will ensure no federal education funding is tied to mandates and prohibit the federal government from forcing states or local districts to adhere to principles or interfere in local education.”

He also dedicated separate space to the issue of School Choice, vowing to empower parents and students by creating a national school choice scholarship program, instituting school-choice tax credits, increasing the availability of charter schools, promoting better learning opportunities for students with disabilities, and availing stronger support to virtual learning, home schooling and blended learning opportunities.

Rubio's third educational pillar took on Higher Education. In short, he said his presidency would work to reduce the complexity of the federal financial aid application and disentangle the system of higher ed tax incentives. He would have also established a new accrediting system so as to promote innovative learning programs and would have improved the public availability of information on how colleges are performing such as overall graduation rates, student debt, and post-graduation earnings.

The dimension of Rubio's plan which most set him apart from his competitors was his approach to student loan repayment. He called for a strategy of “income-based repayment” on all federal loans.

In addition to the breadth of his interest in the subject--at least as it compares to his fellow Republican candidates--Rubio's site included a number of external media links and videos that suggest education was an important issue to him even prior to his run for the presidency.

Ted Cruz—Senator, Texas

Ted CruzTed Cruz pledges to eliminate the Department of Education, along with the IRS, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is the only time the junior Senator mentions or overtly references the word “education” on his campaign website.

Donald Trump—Real Estate Mogul, Reality Television Star

Donald TrumpRepublican frontrunner Donald Trump explains most of his policy positions through brief, off-the-cuff YouTube videos. Here's what he said about education:

“Without education you cannot have the American Dream. Some people say the American Dream is dead. I don't disagree with them. The American Dream is dead. But we're gonna make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before. But again, without education, you can't do that. so we're getting rid of Common Core. We're taking Common Core, it's gonna be gone. There won't be education from Washington D.C. There'll be education locally, the love of parents, the love of these people that love their children, and they're in the area. That's what we're gonna do. We'll have school boards, and we'll have local. We're not going to have it through Washington, so Common Core is dead, and we're gonna take education and we're gonna make it local. We'll save money. Our education will be much better. Do you know in the world today, we're ranked #30? So we're at the bottom of the list, yet per pupil we pay the most. You look at other countries, Denmark, Sweden, China, Norway. These are countries that are right at the top and they spend much less money than us. So we're going local. It's going to be great. And we're going to spend less money. And we're going to move up that list very, very rapidly.”

Submitted without comment.

Candidates for the Democratic Nomination

Bernie Sanders—Senator, Vermont

Bernie SandersAmong his key Issues, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders links to two specific education initiatives.

First and foremost, says Sanders, “It's time to make college tuition free and debt free.”

He calls it “insane” and “short-sighted” that so many bright young Americans either cannot afford to go to college or must take on crippling debt in order to do so. Sanders outlined the steps that would be required to confront this iniquity, noting that the U.S. should follow the lead of Germany, Finland, Norway, and Sweden in eliminating tuition altogether for public colleges and universities.

Sanders said he would also put an end to the profits enjoyed by the federal government on student loan repayment, cut student loan interest rates, allow former graduates to refinance their loans at today's lower rates, and elevate the role of need-based financial aid and work-study programs.

Sanders said that Wall Street speculators would pay for the plan, observing that “If the taxpayers of this country could bailout Wall Street in 2008, we can make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free throughout the country.”

The second of Sanders' educational priorities concerns stronger support for historically black colleges and universities. The Senator said that he would work to reduce student loan interest rates by nearly half, triple the federal work-study program, and ensure that tuition is free to all who wish to attend.

On the Issue of Racial Justice, Sanders repeatedly recognizes that education is one of the best paths to improving equality. He also mentions the importance of bringing high-speed internet to rural areas in order to improve their access to education.

Hillary Clinton—Former Secretary of State

Hillary ClintonDemocratic frontrunner and Former Secretary of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton's interest in education seems more detailed and far-reaching than that of any candidate on either side of the ballot.

The list of Issues prioritized by the Clinton campaign includes four distinct policy initiatives related to education.

On K-12, Clinton says that every child in America has the right to a high-quality education. She supports a balance between testing standards and flexibility at the state and local levels. Clinton also references the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

Though the bill is imperfect in her estimation, she says that it will help struggling schools take independent action to improve their situation and that it will expand resources for teacher development, help to universalize early childhood education, and heighten quality control for public charter schools. Clinton would consider it her responsibility as President to ensure that this Bill is implemented properly.

Clinton also dedicates a separate page to the issue of Early Childhood Education, pledging that as president, she would double “our investment in Early Head Start and Early Head Start–Child Care programs, which bring evidence-based curriculum into the child care setting to provide comprehensive, full-day, high-quality services to low-income families.”

Clinton said that within 10 years, every 4-year-old in America would have access to a high-quality preschool.

On the college front, Clinton and Senator Sanders have a few priorities in common. Specifically, Clinton says that as president, she would ensure no student has to borrow money to pay for tuition, books, or fees to attend a four-year public school. Like Bernie, she also says that she would create a pathway for Americans to refinance existing student loan debt at better interest rates. She would also hold colleges and universities accountable for keeping tuition costs down. Unlike Sanders, she does not suggest financing any of her educational plans at the expense of Wall Street speculators.

Clinton also pledges her support to historically black colleges and universities. Her support would come in the form of a $25 billion fund. She also also speaks of the critical role played by education in achieving Racial Justice.

Of particular note, Clinton is the only major presidential candidate to make mention of Campus Sexual Assault. Explaining that an estimated one in five women report being sexually assaulted while in college, Clinton said she would improve support to survivors, ensure fairness in campus disciplinary hearings and criminal investigations, and would proliferate educational programs on sexual violence prevention both on campus and in secondary schools.

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