K12 Education has been the most noticeably absent policy issue of Election 2016; last night, Marco Rubio broke the silent spell and shared his plan for school reform.
In following the 2016 election cycle, I hear scant mentions of K12 Education policy from the Democratic side. No doubt both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have views and ideas on the issue, but neither has made a priority of bringing school reform into the spotlight.
On the Republican side, the same.
Until last night. At CNN’s first round of Republican Town Halls, Senator Marco Rubio got a question from a college student who worried about her student loans. After detailing his four policies to make college more affordable and loan repayment more doable, Rubio later received another question about struggling K12 students at low-performing schools.
He then mentioned something that has been woefully overlooked by both parties for a long time: school choice is an option for everyone but poor people.
Wealthy parents can send their students to private schools, and middle class parents can afford to move into neighborhoods with better education systems.
But poor parents are stuck with one school zone, and no choice about it. And often, that school does not provide their children with the quality of education that is vital to break the cycle of poverty.
I commend Rubio on two counts. One, he acknowledged that government cannot do everything. It is a point echoed by President Obama, who has observed numerous times that no governmental program can replace family and community.
But I also give credit to Rubio for thinking beyond the usual talking points – voucher programs, charter schools – and highlighting his tax plan instead. At the cost of being chided by conservative entities (most notably, the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal), Rubio supports a tax structure that gives more money back to parents who are raising children.
An extra $50.00 a month may not mean much to middle class and wealthy parents. But it can make a tremendous difference for struggling, working class parents. That was Rubio’s point to the woman who inquired about how to help students who show up without the right supplies, or who sometimes arrive hungry.
The more our policies empower those kids’ parents, the less likely those situations become.
It is an interesting policy choice, and will likely not get much media coverage, with Donald Trump being awarded his very own simultaneously-timed MSNBC Town Hall.
But as a former educator, I was glad to see K12 Education make an appearance, and even more intrigued to hear a nuanced view on how to improve it.
Photo: Flickr/Max Goldberg