NASSP is keeping its finger on the pulse of presidential politics and where the candidates stand on education. Recently, the Committee for Education Funding (CEF) hosted its 2016 Presidential Forum to shed light on the candidates’ positions on education policy issues.

CEF invited each candidate, who was encouraged to send a high-level representative to speak if he or she was unable to attend. Senior Policy Advisor Ann O’Leary represented the Clinton campaign, while Policy Analyst Donni Turner represented the Sanders campaign. Several attempts were made to have representation from the Donald Trump campaign; however, no one was able to attend.

Overall, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ education platforms share many similarities. Both candidates have stated their support for universal pre-K and more rigorous early childhood education programs. On the higher education front, both candidates favor reducing student debt and increasing access to postsecondary opportunities.

Their differences center around eligibility for free college tuition. Sen. Sanders would like all students to be eligible for tuition-free community college and public universities. Secretary Clinton would provide free community college opportunities only to the neediest students. Who foots the bill? Sen. Sanders would tax Wall Street speculation and increase taxes for the wealthiest citizens. Secretary Clinton would increase taxes on the wealthy while also working to reform the tax code to prevent corporate loopholes. Would the candidates consider entitlement reform as an additional way to pay for these initiatives? Both rejected that notion and reaffirmed their commitment to Social Security and Medicare.

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also has the candidates’ attention. Both Clinton and Sanders agree on the need for robust education funding. Additionally, both would like to see additional resources for the neediest students and communities.

O’Leary emphasized that while Clinton supports robust education funding, purposeful funding of education programs is necessary. She said Clinton is pleased to see that several programs without strong supporting evidence were removed from ESSA. O’Leary reminded the audience that when Secretary Clinton was in the Senate, she played a major role with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with a specific focus on subgroup disaggregation. This has long been heralded as one of the best aspects of NCLB and she is pleased that subgroup disaggregation was included in ESSA. The candidate would hope to build on this reporting to better target resources to the neediest communities.

On behalf of the Sanders campaign, Turner agreed, adding that Sen. Sanders is committed to the consultative process, which seeks to ensure that all stakeholders at the state and district level are involved with the implementation of the ESSA. Additionally, Sanders is committed to ensuring more accountability beyond academics to ensure all students are truly college and career ready.

Secretary Clinton believes there needs to be more access to education technology resources, but this cannot be the sole responsibility of the government. There must also be a strong commitment from the private sector. Meanwhile, Sen. Sanders would like to see broadband expanded, not just to address the homework gap, but also to help job seekers.

Perhaps the most notable comment of the day came from O’Leary, who stated that if Clinton was elected president, she would launch a new national teacher campaign focusing on training, residency, and professional development for teachers with hopes of making the profession more attractive. Sen. Sanders wants to ensure the teaching profession is filled with as many quality teachers as possible and would also like teacher licenses to be transferable from state to state.

While the Donald Trump campaign did not send a surrogate, he has discussed several education issues throughout the education cycle. Specifically, Trump has made it very clear that he opposes and would repeal the Common Core State Standards. Additionally, Trump has been very supportive of former presidential candidate Ben Carson’s positions on education, which has led many to speculate that if Trump were elected president, he may name Carson as Secretary of Education. At this time, the Trump website does not include any additional positions on education, but it is NASSP’s hope that all candidates will provide more specifics on their education platforms as the general election approaches.

The entire recording of the forum can be seen on the Committee for Education Funding website. NASSP will continue to monitor the candidates’ positions on education issues and will keep you updated here on the School of Thought blog.

About the Author

David Chodak is the Associate Director of Advocacy at NASSP. Follow him on Twitter @dnchodak.

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