In the first presidential debate last week, education was all but an afterthought. But the issue is likely to get more air time in tonight’s vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence because both have held positions in local, state, and federal offices and have extensive backgrounds in education.
Here are some topics to listen for in tonight’s debate and their likelihood of being mentioned:
Early Childhood Education: As governors, both Kaine and Pence worked on expanding access to early childhood education. When Kaine ran for Virginia governor in 2005, offering universal prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the state was the centerpiece of his education platform. The legislation did not pass, but he has continued to be a staunch supporter of pre-k efforts during his time as an elected official. In 2013 as Governor of Indiana, Pence pushed reluctant Republican leaders in the state legislature to create a publicly funded preschool program for poor children. It opened in 2015 and has more demand than available spots.
Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: HIGH. Early childhood education access has been at the forefront of Clinton’s education plan since the beginning of her campaign, and she gave it some attention in the first presidential debate. Expect Kaine to capitalize on this due to his interest and experience with the topic. While the issue is not as much of a hot topic for the Trump campaign, Pence will be able to hold the conversation due to his relevant experience. This may be the education issue that gets the most attention from the two candidates.
School Choice: As governor, Kaine was skeptical of charter schools and other structural reforms. Virginia is home to just nine charter schools, and Kaine did not promote these efforts throughout the state. On the other hand, Pence is a champion of school choice. As governor, he pushed to expand both charter schools and vouchers. He gave charter schools access to a $50 million fund to help cover the cost of loans for school construction or the purchase of educational technology. And he successfully called for lawmakers to raise the $4,800 cap on vouchers for elementary school students. Continue reading →
The education community watched the first presidential debate last night with hopes for any, small conversation of related issues. K-12 education was likely never going to make the cut. But many thought college affordability, preschool access, and school choice might. These issues didn’t get the spotlight on their own, however education policies were mentioned in passing as part of other overarching issues, including the economy, taxes, and race relations.
Last night, the White House announced a proposal to make 2 years of community college free for any student who attends at least part time, maintains a 2.5 GPA, and makes progress towards completion. The program, which will be included in the administration’s FY 2016 budget request, would be funded with 75 percent federal funds and a 25 percent state match.
I know your first reaction to this was: “What does this mean for pre-k?”
Okay, I’d actually be shocked if that was anyone’s reaction. But, just to demonstrate my impressive ability to make any education topic about pre-k, here are some pre-k related reactions:
This could help improve qualifications of early childhood teachers: According to a recent report from the Center for the Study of Childcare Employment, only 60 percent of preschool or childcare teachers have an associate’s degree or higher. States and the federal government (in Head Start) have taken steps in recent years to increase the qualifications of early childhood teachers, but early childhood teachers face numerous barriers–not the least of which is the cost of higher education tuition–particularly given the low pay of early childhood workers. Because this proposal would be open to adult workers returning to school, as well as recent college graduates, it could help more early childhood workers earn postsecondary credentials.
Another targeted vs. universal debate!: Vox’s Libby Nelson notes that some advocates for low-income students fear making 2 years of community college free for all students would disproportionately benefit middle class students who can afford to pay tuition, rather than low-income students who need more help. This sounds a lot like the universal vs. targeted debate in pre-k. Interestingly, where one comes down in either of these debates has a lot to do with how you believe the program will impact family expectations and the K-12 education system. Supporters of college for all believe that providing universal access will encourage more low-income students and their families to see going to college as a real possibility and increase expectations on K-12 schools to prepare these students for college. Similarly, advocates for universal preschool believe that universal access will encourage families to see preschool as education rather than babysitting, and that providing all children a quality early learning experience that prepares them for kindergarten will enable K-12 schools to change their curricula and instructional practices to further accelerate children’s learning.
Expanding the boundaries of public education: Ultimately, both this proposal and universal pre-k proposals represent efforts to expand the boundaries of public education–to start earlier and end later–in recognition that our nation’s future economic success depends on improving skills and knowledge of future generations. While some might see this proposal as a choice to invest in college students rather than little kids, an alternative conclusion might be that it reflects a growing recognition that the boundaries of our current education system are largely arbitrary and no longer make sense for our current economy and needs. That’s good new for both community college and pre-k.