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Will Education Come Up In Tonight’s GOP Debate?

On your mark, get set, go!

The 2016 presidential race is well underway, and already crowded pools of contenders have emerged on both sides. Voters will have their first chance to see the Republican candidates side-by-side in an early round of debates tonight.

Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News

(Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News)

10 of the 17 contenders for the GOP nomination will square off at a debate in Cleveland, Ohio. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich were selected to participate based on national polling data.

It’s early, but already on the campaign trail candidates have touched on topics ranging from student debt to academic standards to teachers’ unions. Jeb Bush has made a political career largely based on his views on school matters, and a few other candidates have their own “pet” issues that could crop up, including charter schools (Rubio) and teacher tenure (Christie).

Allie Grasgreen of POLITICO’s Morning Education asked a few policy experts what, if any, education issues will make the cut tonight:

“With over 40 million people being crushed by student debt and parents identifying college affordability as their chief financial concern, I would be surprised if higher education didn’t come up,” Young Invincibles Executive Director Jen Mishory said.

But a senior policy analyst at the think tank Demos, which spearheaded the debt-free college idea, expects to see K-12 – namely, Common Core – emerge first. “It’s an issue that genuinely divides some of the candidates, and I would think that either Fox or the candidates themselves would seek to draw contrasts, particularly with such a large field,” Mark Huelsman said. If higher ed does get a mention, he added, it’d probably relate to President Barack Obama’s free community college proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call for free tuition, or vocational education and the private sector. […]

But Catherine Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, wasn’t optimistic. “What voters and parents really want to hear is how our next president will help ensure that all students receive a high-quality education,” she said. “But based on what we’ve heard so far from the GOP presidential candidates, we’re instead likely to hear misinformed statements about the Common Core, attacks on teachers, and praise for voucher programs that would redirect badly needed resources away from public schools.”

Education Week‘s Lauren Camera watched the candidates’ forum hosted in New Hampshire earlier this week and says it provided the best preview for what we’re likely to see tonight…

…[S]urprise, surprise—the headline there was the Common Core State Standards.

Expect that to be the name of the game again Thursday, with potentially a pinch of higher ed. […]

Some things we’ll be watching for: Will Bush and Kasich continue their support for the common core? If so, how much flak will they take for it? How will the three senators with similar education agendas differentiate themselves? Will the ESEA reauthorization efforts come up? Will U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan get name-checked for “coercing” states into adopting certain education policies?

The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog named Common Core number 6 on its list of issues most likely to be addressed:

On national K-12 reading and math standards known as Common Core, Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich stand out among the candidates. Bush is a big supporter of the standards, having served on a national education commission to come up with them while governor of Florida, and Kasich has defended implementing them in his state.

About 40 states and the District of Columbia have implemented Common Core, but many conservatives on and off the debate stage consider the standards one more example of the federal government invading the classroom, doing things that should be left to local officials.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, supported the standards in his state then later said he had “grave concerns” about them. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal all had similar 180-degree turns.

The seven candidates who did not make it to the main stage – Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore – will participate in their own debate beforehand.

That forum will begin at 5 p.m., followed by the main event at 9 p.m., both broadcast live on Fox News.

Will you be watching tonight’s debate? Let us know what you think about the candidates’ stances on education. Tweet us @StateImpactIN using the hashtag #GOPedu or leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

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