Schooling the GOP Candidates: 10 Questions to Ask the 2016 GOP Hopefuls

LIfe 2x 3by Gerard Robinson

Here’s what education activist Campbell Brown should ask the 2016 GOP hopefuls.

www.usnews.comWhat kind of nation does the Republican nominee for president aim to create? A free and prosperous one, to be sure, where well-paying jobs, healthy families and smart policies govern our civil society. Essential to this vision is an education plan that clearly defines an appropriate role for the federal government. While last week’s Republican debate was certainly lively, it provided the American people only a small glimpse into the candidates’ views on K-12 education.

Fortunately, Campbell Brown, founder of The Seventy Four, in partnership with the American Federation for Children, will host a one-on-one interview with several Republican candidates at an Education Summit on August 19 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Having worked as the chief state education leader for two Republican governors, I offer some questions Brown can ask each candidate.

1. Fifty years of policies from Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson to Barack Obama demonstrate the limitations of an expanded federal role in sustaining educational achievement. What is the proper role of the federal government in education?

2. In 1955, Milton Friedman proposed a universal choice model that allowed individuals of all income levels to obtain government money to pay for education, particularly at a private school. In the 1990s, Howard Fuller proposed a social justice-based school choice model that only allowed people of lower socioeconomic status – 175 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty level – to obtain government money to pay for education. Do you support a universal or social justice-based choice model?

3. The school reform movement that began in the early 1990s has resulted in tension between reformers, parents, teachers and philanthropists regarding the best way to educate other people’s children. Stories from Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark or New Orleans (to name a few) require stakeholders to rethink how systemic change to education plays out in communities. As president, how will you implement a national education agenda without becoming a federal example of so-called “FUWU” – “For us, without us” – that strains so much of reform today?

4. Govs. Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush: You were early champions of Common Core. Why the change of heart?

5. Education is the number one investment in most state budgets. Thus, governors give credence to states’ rights when it comes to school and teacher policies. Bush, as president, what education policies would you want to address at the federal level and what would you leave to the states? Would you seek to emulate the Florida model in Washington?

6. The New Jersey legislature took over the Newark Public School District in 1995 due to financial and academic malfeasance. Today, Newark is a useful microcosm for analyzing the greatest challenges and opportunities associated with urban school reform. Christie, what lessons can you draw from Newark to improve K-12 education if you were elected as president? If you could push a reset button on Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to improve schooling in Newark, where would you invest the money?

7. Carly Fiorina, as CEO of Hewlett Packard, you laid off 30,000 employees and said that it was necessary for good business. Obama saved thousands of jobs for teachers through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, saying that it was necessary for the economy. Would you have “bailed out” teachers as the nation’s CEO?

8. Jindal, the first public charter school opened in New Orleans in 1998. Today, over 90 percent of New Orleans students attend a public charter school; others enroll in private schools because of a voucher law you signed in 2008. How can you assure parents and taxpayers of your commitment to traditional public schools given your primary focus on school choice policies?

9. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world: 2.2 million people were in prisons or jails as of 2015, and youth inmate rates are on the rise. Ohio is using research studies to inform policy to create a new path to address these issues. Kasich, how will you address the school-to-prison pipeline as president? Do you think Obama’s plan to allow prisoners access to Pell Grants is good public policy?

10. Walker, the Wisconsin legislator passed Act 10 in 2011 to restrict a union’s authority over collective bargaining and to increase contributions to pension and health plans for public employees. Supporters of Act 10 consider it a win for public education because more money would go to classrooms. How has Act 10 benefited educational achievement for Wisconsin students?

While these questions do not receive the attention they deserve on the campaign trail, Campbell Brown has a real opportunity to bring them front and center on August 19. If last Thursday’s debate is any indicator of the campaign season ahead, it should be a fun and interesting next six months until Iowa.

Gerard Robinson is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he works on education policy issues, and is a former state education official in Florida and Virginia

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