Tonight’s VP Debate: Education Predictions

Mike Pence photo via Gage Skidmore

Tim Kaine official Congressional photo

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.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: HIGH. School choice is not likely an issue Kaine would like to debate. The recent uproar over the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives calling for a moratorium on charter schools makes this a politically tricky topic. Yet school choice is the foundation of Trump’s education plan and a passion for Pence. It would be surprising if Pence didn’t bring it up, but don’t expect Kaine to engage.

College Access and Affordability: Since becoming Clinton’s running mate, Kaine has spoken out on debt-free college and college access. Pence has not said much on the topic.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: HIGH. This topic may not be as near and dear to the hearts of Kaine and Pence, but college access and affordability are standout education topics for both Clinton and Trump. Like in the first presidential debate, expect this topic to be brought up in conversations about the economy.

Career and Technical Education (CTE): CTE is a favorite policy area for both Kaine and Pence. Kaine founded and co-chairs the Senate career and technical education caucus. He worked on a rewrite of the Perkins Act. He also introduced an amendment to ESSA that eventually added CTE to the list of subjects that make up a “well-rounded education.” As governor, Pence advocated for CTE from the beginning of his tenure. In his first legislative session as governor, he successfully pushed through two bills related to CTE.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: MODERATE. CTE is a passion for both candidates and not a particularly controversial subject for either party. However, it’s a fairly specialized topic that doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention in bigger arenas. There may be some mention of CTE tonight, but I wouldn’t expect it to be at the forefront of education discussions.

Standards, Testing, and Accountability: Kaine is no supporter of the accountability movement and has spoken out about over-testing. Pence has long been opposed to the federal government playing a role in education. He was one of just a few dozen members of Congress to vote against No Child Left Behind. And under Pence, Indiana was the first state to drop the Common Core State Standards (though this was solely a state-led effort) and before that, the state backed out of the aligned PARCC assessments (which were federally funded).

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: MODERATE. This topic is wonky and politically tricky. I wouldn’t expect the candidates to get into it. Pence may work in a talking point for disbanding the Common Core State Standards because it’s one of Trump’s education talking points, but other than that, it probably won’t be mentioned.

Teacher Quality: Kaine has written that too often the focus of the teacher policy debate is how to get rid of bad teachers. He’s a supporter of getting educator preparation and professional development right. Pence was a staunch supporter of teacher evaluation reform in Indiana and persuaded lawmakers to approve bonus pay for highly effective teachers.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: LOW. If anyone mentions teacher quality at all, it will be Kaine. He may talk about Clinton’s “national campaign to modernize and elevate the profession of teaching.” But this plan is light on policy detail, so Kaine isn’t likely to mention it. If anything, both candidates may talk about teacher compensation. They agree that teachers deserve higher compensation, but seem to disagree on how to assess which teachers should be paid more and how much more. It could be a lively debate topic, but probably not one they’ll get into.

Desegregation: Desegregation is a topic that Kaine has spoken about on the campaign trail. During his vice presidential candidacy acceptance speech, Kaine talked about how his wife’s (Anne Holton, former secretary of education in Virginia) father (former Virginia Governor A. Lindwood Holton) worked to integrate Richmond’s city schools and sent his kids to them. Desegregation and school choice are often pitted against each other as solutions in K-12 education. Kaine and Pence seem to stand on opposite sides of the aisle on these topics.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: LOW. While this seems to be a favorite topic of Kaine, desegregation is a better stump speech topic than a debate topic. He may mention it if school choice comes up, but that could lead down an unwanted rabbit hole. He probably won’t bring it up and Pence won’t either.

Tonight’s vice presidential debate begins at 9pm Eastern. I’ll be listening in for mention of the above education topics and will write a new post tomorrow with a rundown of what was covered. Let the debate begin!