Hillary & Bernie Do Vegas: Expect a Lot About Student Loans, Little on Common Core, at Dem Debate
Following two intense Republican debates, only one of which had any substantial discussion on education matters, it is now the Democrats’ turn to engage voters and debate amongst themselves.
Unlike the Republicans who are divided on the issue of Common Core, the top-tier Democrats, namely Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, all share the belief that pre-school programs should receive more public support, college tuition fees are unreasonably high, and taxpayer dollars should not be used for voucher or education savings account programs that help pay for private school or other educational expenses.
Clinton has gained the support of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, although there has been some disagreement within their ranks, with some favoring the more liberal Sanders. Sanders defines himself as a "democratic socialist."
Less is known about the education views of Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, both of whom served in the U.S. Senate and are running for the Democratic nomination. Chafee, who started his career as a Republican and later served as an Independent governor of Rhode Island, oversaw the implementation of the Race to the Top grant and supported controversial education policies. He also secured federal funding for early childhood education. Chafee’s campaign website highlights expanding Head Start and fully funding special education as his main K-12 education priorities.
Webb, a long-time military leader, does not mention any education issues on his campaign website.
Here are four issues, three major and one minor, that could be discussed during the debate:
1. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: This is a K-12 issue at the forefront of Congress’ focus, and the candidates have different views on it. Clinton and Chafee, who were both Senate members at the time, supported the 2001 bill, while Sanders, a member of the House at the time, voted against it. Sanders argues that the law ignores important factors such as poverty, healthcare, and nutrition that affect a student’s academic performance. He believes that the emphasis on standardized testing neglects crucial skills needed in the 21st-century economy, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. Clinton and O’Malley also criticize the law for its excessive emphasis on testing. Clinton stresses the need to strike a balance between the benefits of testing and its drawbacks, while O’Malley believes that test scores should be used to improve instruction rather than as a punitive measure in the evaluation of teachers.
2. HIGHER EDUCATION: Student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion, making it a significant issue for young voters. The top three candidates have extensively discussed this issue and all support lowering federal student loan rates and allowing borrowers with older loans to refinance at the current lower rates. However, they differ in their views on college affordability. Clinton proposes the New College Compact, which offers two years of free community college and grants for tuition-free attendance at four-year public schools. Sanders advocates for free tuition at four-year public schools. Clinton’s plan focuses more on aiding those who are financially incapable of paying tuition fees, while Sanders has a universal approach. Both plans would be funded by increasing taxes on the wealthy, with Clinton suggesting the closing of tax loopholes, and Sanders proposing a "Robin Hood tax" on investment firms and hedge funds.
O’Malley, who disclosed that his family has nearly $340,000 in student loans, primarily from Parent PLUS loans taken out to assist their daughters, suggests an immediate freeze on public tuition rates and tying future increases to a state’s median income.
Clinton has proposed that all four-year-olds should attend high-quality preschool within a period of 10 years. Her campaign aims to build on Obama’s Preschool for All initiative, which seeks to expand access to publicly funded programs for four-year-olds in families whose income is up to 200 percent of the poverty level, roughly $48,500 for a family of four. Democrats attempted to introduce a similar proposal to the No Child Left Behind rewrite earlier this summer but it was not successful due to party divisions.
Clinton has been involved with this issue for many years, and when her husband was governor, she helped bring the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program to Arkansas. Additionally, the Clinton Foundation runs Too Small to Fail, an early learning initiative that provides funding for research and offers guidance to parents on specific actions they can take to assist their young children in learning and development.
However, the other candidates have also been active in the realm of preschool education.
Sanders has put forth bills advocating for universal childcare and education from the age of six weeks until kindergarten. He was also one of the original co-sponsors of the Democrats’ major push for preschool education in 2014.
O’Malley can point to the expansions made to Maryland’s preschool program for children from low-income backgrounds. He believes that universal, full-day preschool should be implemented.
In a lighter topic, the CNN moderators may want to discuss the metric system, similar to what they did in the previous debate. They could address Lincoln Chafee’s proposal to convert the US to the metric system, which he introduced during his presidential campaign announcement in June. Chafee believes that the country should be bold and make this conversion. Only Liberia and Myanmar currently do not use the metric system. The United States has technically allowed the use of the metric system since the 1860s, but despite legal provisions and efforts as recent as the late 1980s, the country has predominantly stuck with the Imperial system.