Disappointed by the lack of conversation on education in the first presidential debate, I, like many of us in the education community, thought last night’s vice presidential debate would be the time for education to shine. In anticipation, I put together a list of education topics that I thought Tim Kaine and Mike Pence might mention and the likelihood that each topic might get some air time.
On most accounts, I was wrong. Turns out that, once again, education was not mentioned to debate specific education policy ideas. It was mentioned as an aside to other policy topics.
But the night did start off strong. The idea that education could be a theme throughout the debate seemed promising when Kaine talked about school segregation in his opening statement. The education Twitter-sphere went wild:
To drive home Clinton’s “stronger together” slogan, Kaine mentioned a high school student from Farmville, VA (where the debate was held), Barbara Johns, who led a walkout against school segregation 65 years ago. But Kaine telling this story wasn’t all that surprising: it’s a topic he’s mentioned several times since accepting the candidacy due to his family’s history fighting segregation in Virginia.
I did have desegregation on the list of education topics I thought might come up in the vice presidential debate, but I thought there was a low chance of it being mentioned. To be fair, Kaine didn’t mention desegregation in order to debate its policy value in bettering today’s schools (segregation is still a huge issue). Instead he brought it up to connect it to the Clinton campaign’s larger message of a united America.
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 →
Donald Trump and Mike Pence talk to “60 Minutes.” Photo: CBS News
The Veep-stakes are over! The pick is in. Mike Pence, the sitting Governor of Indiana, will run as Trump’s Vice President. Although he has only been Governor for a few years, Pence also served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Putting those records together, we can get a sense of what the Pence pick could mean for public education.
Tough sledding for civil rights. Pence’s stance on equal rights is pretty clear. Everyone remembers the law he signed permitting individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. So, many federal student protections could be in jeopardy, including President Obama’s executive action on bathroom use for transgender students. In a similar vein, Pence strongly supports states’ rights and local control. He likely would advocate for reducing (perhaps even further) the federal footprint in education. This is bad news for low-income students and students of color who frequently receive low-quality educations and depend on federal support.
Funding redistribution (but not to support low-income students). If his most recent budget in Indiana is any indication, Pence certainly feels that something needs to be done to improve school funding in this country. Unfortunately, however, he seems to think wealthier districts need an even bigger slice of the school funding pie.
Charter expansion. In addition to increasing funding for charters broadly, Pence also supported theso-called “Freedom to Teach” bill.The idea is to help provide teachers with the flexibility they need to innovate in their classrooms. Some teachers and union representatives argue that they already have that freedom. Instead, they believe that the bill is designed to limit union power and invite private entities to run public schools.
Vouchers Vouchers Vouchers. For years Pence has been a vocal proponent of school vouchers and expanding the use of public funds to pay for private education. Last year he helped to shepherd a bill to raise the voucher limit on funds available for elementary school students. A Trump/Pence White House may provide the strongest support for expanding voucher programs in decades.
Preschool a priority (kind of). It’s a far cry from universal pre-K, but Pence was able to expand Indiana’s pre-school program. He also recently committed to expanding the program further with or without federal support. It is important to note, however, that Pence previously refused millions of dollars of federal support, and only seemed interested in them now that he is up for reelection.
In education policy, Pence sticks to the party-line. For that reason, his selection should make many conservatives happy. But students and teachers should be on high alert. In a Trump/Pence White House, it would take a watchful eye and strong advocacy to preserve critical federal protections for vulnerable students, ensure low-income students get their fair share of funding, and prioritize students’ needs over states’ rights.