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Valerie Strauss: Four debates, no questions about K-12 education

By Valerie Strauss

The Washington Post

Now it’s getting ridiculous: Four debates among Democratic presidential candidates, and no questions — or serious discussion — about K-12 education.

A nod goes to Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a former superintendent of the Denver school system, who answered a non-education question with a call to improve the public education system. His passionate plea to “fix our school system” and focus on segregated schools came in response to a question by CNN moderator Don Lemon about why he would be the best candidate to heal the racial divide in the United States.

Some candidates made passing references to universal preschool, and moderators did raise college affordability and student debt. But when it comes to K-12 public education, which many believe is the most important civic institution in the country, nada.

There have been four debates: two in June on NBC and MSNBC with 10 candidates each night; and two this week on CNN, also with 10 candidates on each night. So what were the moderators thinking, exactly?

That education isn’t as important as health care and immigration and foreign affairs and how Democrats can win Michigan in 2020?

That prekindergarten and higher education is more important than the grades in between?

That Americans aren’t very interested in the present and future of public education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plans to change the way children attend school?

Do the moderators think the candidates all agree so they can’t spark a fight with the issue? (They don’t.)

Is it too difficult to compose questions that get at the heart of major matters confronting public schools?

How about: “America funds its public education system largely through property taxes, and federal efforts to close the gap between high-income and low-income neighborhoods have not bridged the gap. Should there be a fundamental change in the way public schools are funded?”

Or: “If the Supreme Court rules, as it may do, that it is constitutional for states to use public funds for religious education, would you take any action as president to override that decision? Do you believe it is constitutional for public funds to be used for religious education?”

Or: “Do you agree with any education move that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made?” Or: “What is the most damaging step Betsy DeVos has taken, and how would you change it?” Or: “Do you agree with Betsy DeVos on expanding charter schools, and if not, where is the disagreement?”

Or: “Can you name the three biggest problems facing K-12 education today, and how you would fix them?”

Or: “What is the role of the federal government in education policy?”

Well, there’s always hope that some K-12 education question will come up in the next Democratic debate. But don’t hold your breath.

Valerie Strauss is a Post education writer and writes The Answer Sheet blog.

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