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Finally! Presidential campaigns talk solely education issues

By Jillian Luchner

Last week, the Committee for Education Funding (CEF) held a Presidential Forum on May 26th at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to focus on issues in education. The forum consisted of two panels moderated by journalist and former chief CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley. The event marked one of the most prominent opportunities thus far in the 2016 presidential race for campaigns to focus solely on presenting their education policy agendas.

The first panel included Ann O’Leary, Senior Policy Advisor to Hillary Clinton, and Donni Turner, Policy Advisor with Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign. Though CEF invited and “strongly encouraged” Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign to participate, no representative was present. The two policy advisors on the panel, both representing Democratic candidates, began by explaining to Crowley that their education platforms were far more similar than different, but then went on to fine tune their particular candidate’s priorities and issues.

Presidential priorities made clear

According to Turner, higher education is the top focus of the Sanders agenda. His priority list also includes ensuring that educators are well-paid and highly-trained, as well as addressing child care concerns. Turner provided a list of these concerns, saying “afterschool programs are a top priority for [Sanders]” in order to give working parents choices. Turner stated that support for these issues “is important to [Sanders] because that’s what he’s hearing from families across the country because it’s important to them.”

O’Leary discussed Clinton’s focus on education “from birth to lifelong learning” with attention to both higher education and early learning, including Clinton’s belief that no American family should be paying more than 10 percent of their income on child care. O’Leary also focused on the achievement gaps and disparities between the resources and attention provided to children of different family income levels.

“It costs different amounts of money to educate different children,” said O'Leary in response to a question about whether money was the answer to supporting education. “You cannot ignore poverty as an indicator of how kids are,” she continued, suggesting that schools can provide “wraparound services” as a way to mitigate some effects of poverty.

Afterschool issues still lack proper attention

The second panel included Lindsey M. Burke, Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Nat Malkus, Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy at American Progress. The panelists debated the value of federal investments and the federal role in education.

The forum successfully brought the issue of education to the forefront of the election year dialogue. Yet from an afterschool perspective, there is still much more that could be said and done. The Afterschool Alliance has created a candidate questionnaire and issued it to each of the remaining presidential candidates of the two major political parties, with a goal of engaging them in more depth on youth issues outside the classroom. One candidate has already responded, meeting our original deadline, and we are awaiting two more. Feel free to tweet at the campaigns and ask them to respond!

Learn more about what the candidates are saying and how you can work to keep afterschool in the conversations happening at the local, state and national levels throughout this campaign cycle.