Election issue profile: Education

| Managing Editor

Over the next seven weeks, the Forum section will be profiling the most pressing economic, political and social issues of the 2016 presidential race. We will examine the views of the top three candidates: Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson and Donald Trump—to give students an inside view on who and what we will be voting for (or against) in the upcoming election.

Imagine a dinner party. It’s loud and rowdy and everyone is absolutely hammered, shouting over each other. In the corner of the room sits one lonely party guest, and nobody is giving him the time of day. Which is a shame, because he’s a really fascinating guy, with lots of good stories, but the only acknowledgement he gets is when a drunken party guest occasionally comes by, shakes his shoulders and says loudly, “YOU’RE THE BEST, MAN!” and then burps and walks away.

That party is this election and that man is education.

Education is important, but it’s essentially been swept under the rug this election cycle. But here at Student Life, we fight the good fight, so here’s a look at the major candidates’ education policy platforms.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s education platform, in a word: robust. Although she hasn’t had many opportunities to discuss the nuts and bolts of her ideas—see the first debate—they are undeniably ambitious. Clinton’s big push has been for a massive, multi-billion-dollar expansion of the American pre-kindergarten system. It’s so big, it’s been dubbed the “Preschool Revolution” and has its own section on her website. The end goal is universal education for 4-year-olds, which is a win-win, because early childhood education has been linked to better educational outcomes, but also because photo opportunities with 4-year-olds are really cute.

It’s worth noting that the country’s two biggest teachers’ unions have endorsed Hillary, which speaks to top-down approach to education reform. She does not support the expansion of voucher programs, arguing that spending money on vouchers drains money from public schools. A better solution, she says, is promoting community collaboration through charter schools. Her other big push has been for affordable college: making community college tuition free, and making public university tuition free for families with incomes under $125,000. Once again, the plans here are sweeping and expensive (the campaign has promised a technical breakdown of the costs soon) but supporters argue that it’s time that education finally gets a bigger piece of the pie.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s stance on education has been described as “performance art” (by Rick Hess, American Enterprise Institute scholar) and “not really all that clear” (by me). The major theme here is that federal government involvement in education is bad and communities deciding how to run their schools is good.

Trump calls for $20 billion (!) to be reallocated to school choice voucher programs, which would slash the spending power of the Department of Education (an intentional side effect, as Trump has made his distaste for that department well-known). He also calls for the end of Common Core. There hasn’t been much mention of early childhood education, but Trump has said he will “ensure that the opportunity to attend a two- or four-year college” will be “easier to access, pay for, and finish.” If campaign platforms are the snack aisle, this sentence is pork rinds: It’s packaged in a big, flashy container, and it looks intriguing, but when you bite into it, you wonder what the hell you’re actually eating and are suddenly filled with massive amounts of regret.

Gary Johnson

Let’s turn our attention to the metaphorical elephant in the room: Gary wants to abolish the Department of Education. Again for the people in the back: Gary Johnson wants to burn the whole thing to the ground, never to be seen again. This is a bold move, seeing as the department has been around since EIGHTEEN SIXTY-SEVEN and is, as far as I can tell, the only force stopping Texas from throwing all science textbooks out the window and teaching young Texans that dinosaurs were man’s first best friend.

If you’re willing to look past that smoldering dumpster fire of an idea, it’s still somewhat difficult to parse out the finer details of Johnson’s education plan. Like Trump, he is vehemently against Common Core curriculum and supports voucher programs that he says will promote healthy competition between public, charter and private schools. His website does not address the subject of early childhood education, so too bad, preschoolers. No soup for you.

Who has the most experience in this field?

Gary Johnson has certainly made a lot of noise in this arena, claiming to be “more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice.” That said, noise does not equal results. The extent of Donald Trump’s educational experience seems to be the fact that he has, allegedly, attended at least one school in his life. In a verdict that should shock literally no one, Hillary Clinton emerges as the frontrunner when it comes to experience with education policy. She’s chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee and served on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Next question.

What was the best late-night moment on this issue?

Big surprise: it’s John Oliver, again, talking about why charter schools aren’t like pizzerias. That’s some deep dish.