Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Presidential Candidates Education Policies

By Emily SilfkinPublished November 9, 2015

Do we need common core, free higher education, or Federal control of education?

by Emily Slifkin
With a pre-school system that does not serve all equitably, a contentious common-core curriculum, and a student debt crisis in this nation, education should be at the forefront of the political debate for the 2016 election. However, other issues like immigration and abortion have taken precedent over a comprehensive education plan. Candidates should not forget to develop such a plan, as teachers unions have strong opinions and influence during elections, and many of the nation's parents are concerned about the educational future of their children. The following will describe what each of the front-runner candidates has proposed for education reform.
            Hillary Clinton has probably proposed the most ideas for education, and her endorsements prove that. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have endorsed Clinton. On Clinton's website, she describes the New College Compact: a belief that students should never borrow for academic expenses to attend a four-year public college in their state, the federal government will start giving grants rather than loans, loans will be able to be refinanced at current rates, and future interest rates will be cut. Furthermore, Clinton wants to cut student debt by consolidating the four income-based repayment programs into a single program, using technology to streamline the enrollment process, and helping borrowers who are in default. To improve early childhood education, she states that she will double our investment in Early Head Start programs. Additionally, Clinton wants to improve preschool access by providing new federal funding for states that expand access to quality preschool.
            In a recent op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, Bernie Sanders supported a free higher-education system. He cited reasons such as a high-school diploma used to be enough for a well-paying job, minimum wage workers cannot afford college tuition, and Americans are struggling with $1.3 trillion in student loans. He stated that education is essential to compete globally, and that thousands of smart people are kept from college because they cannot afford it. He also cites social democratic countries such as Finland, Denmark, and Sweden that offer tuition-free public colleges and universities. On his website, Sanders also promotes free college through imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators. His other ideas include stopping the government from making a profit on student loans, cutting student loan interest rates, and allowing students to use work study programs to make college debt free.
            Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has proposed cutting spending through eliminating the Department of Education. He does not believe in the Common Core, and believes that education should happen at a local level. Trump has also supported financial education for students which would include lessons on investing and saving. Not surprisingly, Trump's website does not mention anything about education.
            Ben Carson, another Republican frontrunner, has established a different education platform. He wants the Education Department to identify "extreme bias" at higher education institutions and to cut off funds to these colleges and universities. He wants students at universities to send in their complaints to aid in bias investigations. However, the bias that Carson is referring to is not founded in fact, and has a religious motivation behind it. Carson also seems to want to limit "political propaganda" on campus, which in turn limits free speech. However, he believes that his plan is not a limit on free speech, just that taxpayers shouldn't pay for "propaganda." Basically, Carson wants investigations into school lessons that don't meet Republican speech standards. This pan essentially leads to an authoritarian approach to higher education, not one which allows free thought and expression. Carson's website states that he is in favor of local control for communities to fund and manage their own schools. He also states that he is against Common Core and that the education system must be run by involved parents and teachers, not bureaucrats.
            Marco Rubio states on his website that he will stop the federal government from pushing Common Core on states and give states and localities control over education. He also believes in school choice by increasing the availability of charter schools. On higher education, Rubio has proposed simplifying existing tax incentives for post-secondary education and reducing the complexity of the federal aid application. He also proposes making higher education information more available on-line so students and parent can make informed decisions. To reduce the burden of student loan debt, Rubio has proposed establishing an income-based repayment program as the payment method for federal earns, and want to empower new borrowers to make loan payments in proportion to what they earn. Mostly, Rubio wants to invest in vocational training and train students to work in a 21st century economy.
            Nothing that the top presidential candidates have proposed for education is anything shocking or out-of-line with party values. However, some candidates seem to have more comprehensive plans than others as how to achieve their agenda. We will have to wait to see if education become more of a campaign topic in the months leading to the election.