The Washington Post asked the two major presidential candidates — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — to respond to an identical series of questions about their vision and plans for public schools should they become president of the United States.
Public education is one of the most important issues the country faces, but there has been little discussion about it during this campaign cycle. The Post’s education team asked questions about a number of topics, including school funding, school choice, standardized testing, early-childhood education and the Common Core State Standards. And we asked some personal questions, including whether they ever cheated in school.
Trump’s campaign declined requests to answer the Post’s questions and instead provided the following comment and said it preferred “to direct voters to Mr. Trump’s plan” on his website. Here is Trump’s response as provided by Jessica Ditto, the candidate’s deputy communications director:
“As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice. I want every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom – the civil right – to attend the school of their choice. I understand many stale old politicians will resist. But it’s time for our country to start thinking big once again. We spend too much time quibbling over the smallest words, when we should spend our time dreaming about the great adventures that lie ahead.”
Clinton’s campaign responded to the questions. Here are the questions we asked of both candidates, with Clinton’s responses:
Q: Local school districts in the United States are funded primarily by property taxes, meaning that every district spends a different amount per student and wealthier districts have more to spend. Is this system fair? If not, how would you change it to ensure that funding equity?
Clinton: I believe that every child deserves a world-class education, with good teachers and good schools, regardless of their Zip code. That’s the promise of public education in America. But in too many communities, that promise has not been fulfilled – in part because of the problem you’ve identified. In Detroit, for example, children are sitting in classrooms infested with rodents and mold. In North Carolina, the average teacher salary can barely support a family. And in communities across America, many schools are more segregated today than they were in the late 1960s.
A lot of this has to do with funding – not just how much money we spend, but how we spend it. We need to get smarter about the educational investments we make. Because the big picture is, there’s no better investment we can make in our future than investing in our children.
As president, I’ll fight to provide every child and every public school the resources they need and deserve. Here’s what that means: ensuring that federal funds are targeted to communities most in need; partnering with states to ensure every 4-year old has the chance to go to preschool; investing in behavioral health programs and school support staff to end the school-to-prison pipeline; and working to provide school districts the funding they need to offer computer science education in every public school. These investments will enhance equity and expand opportunity in our classrooms.
It’s important to note that the issue of funding inequity is due to large education funding gaps that exist across and within states. The federal government isn’t the source of this challenge and can’t solve it on its own. States and communities need to do their part too. The recent passage of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act gives them the opportunity to do just that. It requires greater transparency in how state and local school funding is allocated, and it requires districts to provide as much or more to poor schools as more affluent ones. As president, I’ll enforce that law, and I’ll look for additional ways to encourage states and districts to move toward more equitable public school funding.
That’s my plan. In contrast, my opponent wants to eliminate the program that provides federal funding to high-poverty schools altogether. That would threaten funding for 70,000 high-poverty public schools. It would be a disaster. And it’s a huge betrayal of our values.
This issue has been a passion of mine for a long time. My very first job out of law school was working for the Children’s Defense Fund. For one of my first assignments, I went door to door to figure out why so many kids with disabilities weren’t in school. The work we did led to changes in the law. And today, every child is guaranteed the right to a quality public education. I’ve made it my life’s work to make that right a reality for more children, and I’ll continue that work as president.
Q: Do you think that schools alone can systemically overcome the effects that living in poverty has on children’s education?
Clinton: No, schools alone can’t overcome the crisis of children living in poverty. This is something we all need to come together to address as a country. Because the truest measure of any society is how care for our kids.
I believe that no child in our country should go hungry, be homeless, or grow up feeling unsupported or unsafe. For the first time in 50 years, a majority of our public school students are growing up in poverty. That’s unacceptable. We have to make it right.
And public schools are an important part of the solution, but what happens inside our classrooms can’t make up for the investments we’ve failed to make outside our classrooms.
I still believe “it takes a village to raise a child,” and that means making a sustained and comprehensive commitment to tackling poverty. As president, I’ll work with Democrats and Republicans to make an historic investment in good-paying jobs. I’ll fight to raise the minimum wage and finally guarantee equal pay for women, because hard work should be rewarded in America. And I’ll make a national commitment to create more affordable housing, to help the more than 11 million American households that spend more than half their incomes on rent.
And I’m particularly focused on alleviating poverty for families with children. That’s why I’ve proposed expanding the Child Tax Credit; doubling funding for the Early Head Start program, to provide health and nutrition support to our youngest learners; alleviating the cost of child care for working families; and guaranteeing paid family leave, so new parents can spend time with their children without giving up paychecks.
This isn’t a new fight for me. Advocating for children and families has been the cause of my life, and if I have the honor of serving as president, it will be the driving mission of my administration.
Q: Do you think that all students should take the same standardized test every year so that score comparisons can be made to see how states are educating their children?
Clinton: Few issues in education are more controversial than testing. Tests are intended to provide parents and teachers with an understanding of how well kids are learning, and having that understanding is crucial for improving our public schools for all our children, particularly low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. At the same time, I share the frustration many teachers and parents feel about tests. Too much time is being spent on test preparation, which means children are often missing out on the most valuable experience in the classroom: a teacher who sparks a student’s curiosity and love for learning.
To me, the solution is better, fewer, and fairer tests. The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act was a step in the right direction. By providing funding to states and school districts to audit their testing systems and reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests, the legislation can help us find the right balance on testing. Effectively implementing the law will take commitment and cooperation by our parents, teachers, schools, states, and the federal government. I look forward to being part of this critical work as president.
Q: Should students be allowed to opt out of state-mandated standardized tests?
Clinton: I know this is something some parents are grappling with right now. Here’s how I see it. I think we can all agree that just adding more tests will not improve the quality of education our children receive. I also think tests can serve as a valuable tool to see how our children are learning.
So I’m focused on helping states and school districts find the right balance on testing. Let’s move toward better, fairer, and fewer tests so that parents don’t feel the need for their children to opt-out. That starts with bringing parents and teachers back into the conversation about how we ensure our classrooms remain creative and engaging spaces, while also ensuring we have an understanding of how well all of our kids are learning.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Q: Today students as young as 4 and 5 are being asked to sit for hours in class doing academic work with little or no recess. This is part of a “pushdown” of curriculum in which children are being asked to read and write, analyze and perform math problems at younger ages than in the past. Do you support this trend?
Clinton: Young children need room to explore their curiosity — to run, jump, wiggle, and play with their peers. I firmly believe that these activities are just as important to a child’s development as math and reading instruction when children are very young.
But this isn’t either/or. We should do both. High-quality early childhood programs provide early literacy and early math instruction while also incorporating creative play. That’s exactly why I fought for the creation of Early Head Start as First Lady – because it provides health, nutrition, and pre-literacy supports to our youngest kids and their families. But we’re still not reaching enough children and families.
As president, I’ll double funding for Early Head Start, work to make preschool universal for every 4-year-old in America, and fight so that no family in America has to pay more than 10 percent of its income to afford high-quality child care.
Early-childhood education has been a passion of mine for a long time. As the first lady of Arkansas, I helped launch the HIPPY program in the state, which teaches parents to be their kids’ first teachers. Years later, after completing my time as Secretary of State, I started “Too Small to Fail,” a program to raise awareness about the “word gap” and the importance of high-quality early learning programs. I’ve been guided by a strong belief, backed by rigorous research, that what happens in the early years has a profound effect on a child’s well-being and success in school and life.
Q: Do you support universal prekindergarten?
Clinton: Yes, strongly. If we want our children to thrive in tomorrow’s economy, we’ve got to invest in our children’s future today, and that begins with our youngest learners. We know early development is critical for children, particularly in the first five years of life. But just half of the roughly 8.1 million three- and four-year olds in the United States are enrolled in pre-K. Only one in four are enrolled in publicly funded pre-K. That’s how few slots there are.
I believe it’s time to develop a universal preschool program in the United States. Under my plan, we’d fund it with a federal-state partnership. And our goal would be to make sure every 4-year-old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next 10 years. This will strengthen families and communities, support working parents, and ensure our kids enter school ready to learn.
My opponent has a very different vision. He’s opposed to providing federal funding for universal preschool. When asked if he would invest in preschool as president he said simply, “Well, I don’t like it.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Fortunately, many people don’t agree with my opponent. There’s actually bipartisan agreement on the need to invest in preschool and provide our children the opportunity to get off to a strong and healthy start. Democratic and Republican governors across the country have increased funding for preschool since the recession, because to them, this is common sense. I believe it’s time for the federal government to step up, too, and work with states to guarantee preschool for our children.
Q: Should teachers be evaluated by the test scores of students?
Clinton: We expect more of our educators than ever before. We ask them to prepare students for a competitive economy, adjust to policy reforms that impact their classrooms, and increasingly, fill the gaps in support we fail to provide our students.
We know that, of all in-school factors, nothing is more important to a child’s education than a great teacher. I believe deeply that we need to do more to support our teachers. As president, I’ll launch a national campaign to modernize and elevate the profession of teaching. We’ll ensure educators have the preparation they need to succeed in the classroom and to keep learning, innovating, and advancing in their careers.
The Every Students Succeeds Act provides a great framework for supporting educators. And specifically on the issue of evaluations, the law helps us move in the right direction by providing states the flexibility to design holistic accountability systems. That moves us closer to ensuring every student has a supported and effective teacher in the classroom.
Q: What is the best way of measuring the success of schools and what should happen when schools are not measuring up?
Clinton: To me, the measure of our success comes down to one thing: Are we giving every student the chance to thrive at school, and graduate prepared for college and a career? I believe we should set our expectations high when it comes to something as fundamental as our children’s education – and we should provide the right balance of resources, support, and accountability to help schools meet them.
So what does that mean in practice? For starters, it means we need a system that gives states and teachers the flexibility they need to serve the needs of their students. And it means making sure schools are held accountable for raising achievement for all of their students — especially low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. I’m optimistic that the Every Students Succeeds Act strikes the right balance by allowing states to develop more holistic school accountability systems that look at factors beyond just test scores. It also requires states to develop real plans to reduce the use of exclusionary disciplinary policies, and to report rates of suspensions, expulsions, and school-related arrests – all of which disproportionately affect African American and Latino students, students with disabilities, and LGBT youth. These steps are critical to ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
When schools don’t measure up, states and districts must have plans in place to provide the resources and support they need to improve. We cannot – and should not – leave struggling schools and students on their own. I believe the federal government has a vital role to play in overseeing the implementation of effective state accountability systems and making sure states take action when schools need support.
Most importantly, as leaders in states and districts put these systems into practice – and work continuously to improve them – we need to be sure parents, teachers, and principals have a seat at the table. I’ve said that it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe it takes a village to improve a school, too. We all have a role to play in making sure every child gets the education they deserve.
Q: The Common Core State Standards is not a federal program, but the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of governors have backed its development and implementation in numerous states. Do you support the Common Core initiative? Please explain why or why not. What should the federal role be in relation to Common Core?
Clinton: For many years – going back to my work to improve education in Arkansas – I’ve believed that states should voluntarily adopt a set of rigorous academic standards. When states came together on Common Core, I thought that was a laudable effort. But, like many Americans, I have concerns about how the Common Core has been implemented. Setting high academic standards shouldn’t mean adding more tests – it should mean ensuring that all children have access to an engaging curriculum that will prepare them for the future.
Now, my opponent likes to say he will “get rid” of the Common Core on day one of his presidency. There’s only one problem with that: he can’t. The Common Core was a state-led effort, and states are completely free to adopt or eliminate the standards. In fact, the federal government is actually prohibited from telling a state which standards it can or can’t adopt. If you want to improve education in America, you need to actually understand how it works.
Q: What should the role of the U.S. Education Department be in local public education?
Clinton: Ensuring every child in America receives a quality education is a national priority. That means local schools, states, and the federal government must all work together to provide our kids the opportunities they deserve. I’ve always believed that parents, teachers, and communities should be the primary caretakers of their schools. But I also believe the federal government has an important role to play in protecting students who have historically been disadvantaged, and closing gaps in opportunity that still exist in our education system today.
That was the original vision for the federal role in education: to end segregation in the South, lift up impoverished schools in rural Appalachia, and make sure the sons and daughters of California farmworkers had a chance to succeed. That’s why President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, and gave dedicated funding for our nation’s poorest schools for the first time. At the time he said: “By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than 5 million educationally deprived children.”
We’ve come a long way since 1965. But we still have work to do. As president, I’ll keep working to continue to break down the barriers that hold too many of our children back, and build ladders of opportunity in their place.
Q: Currently charter schools, which are funded by the public, are not required to be as transparent about their finances and other operations as traditional public schools. Should they be?
Clinton: Quality public charter schools can provide parents with real choices for their children. In fact, many of the country’s best public charter schools are opening doors to opportunity for disadvantaged students. That’s why I have long been a strong supporter of public charter schools and an unflinching advocate for traditional public schools.
That said, I want to be sure that public charter schools – like traditional public schools – serve all students, and don’t discriminate against students with disabilities or behavioral challenges. We should hold charters to the same standards, and the same level of accountability and transparency, as traditional public schools.
I believe the public school system is a pillar of our democracy. Public education provides crucial pathways to opportunity for our children – and as President, I’ll work to ensure that pathway lives up to the potential of every child.
Q: Should for-profit companies be allowed to open and operate publicly funded charter schools?
Clinton: While I do support nonprofit charter schools, which comprise the vast majority of public charter schools today, I don’t support for-profit charter schools. At the federal level, for-profit charter schools are already prohibited from receiving funding through programs like the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools Program – a step I fully support.
Q: Should states have limits on the number of charter schools that can be created?
Clinton: States should develop policies that ensure we shut down charters that fail our kids and allow successful public charter schools to add new campuses or grade levels. Along the way, we should share practices from our best charters with other schools – including traditional public schools – so all students can benefit from their innovations. And we should ensure meaningful transparency and accountability across the board.
Q: Study after study has found that black students as young as preschoolers are suspended and expelled at disproportionately high rates. How would you address this?
Clinton: I’ve read those studies, too – and they’re absolutely heartbreaking.
Parents, teachers, and students all want and deserve safe, welcoming schools. Right now, in too many communities — disproportionately communities of color — police involvement in school discipline, an overreliance on suspensions and expulsions, and biases we too often ignore are leading students into a school-to-prison pipeline. Rather than improving the quality of our schools, overly punitive disciplinary practices make matters worse. They’re associated with lower academic performance and higher rates of dropout. They rob teachers and parents of the chance to help children learn from their mistakes. And distressingly, they disproportionately impact African American and Latino students, students with disabilities, and LGBT students.
That’s why I’ve released a detailed plan to end the school-to-prison pipeline. An important part of that plan is transforming the way we approach discipline in America’s schools. As part of my plan, we’ll fund “School Climate Support Teams” in districts and schools with high suspension and in-school arrest rates. These teams — comprised of social workers and behavioral health specialists — will work with educators, parents, and community members to develop and implement a comprehensive discipline reform plan for the school district. We’ll also expand evidenced-based behavioral support programs, work with states to eliminate overly broad school disturbance laws, and ensure that training on classroom climate and restorative justice is embedded in federally supported teacher preparation programs.
Building a healthy, safe school culture is critical to the success of our students, our educators, our communities, and our country.
Q: Do you believe that public funds should be used for students to pay for private school tuition? If not, why not? If so, should the private schools be held accountable in any way for student achievement?
Clinton: I do not believe we should be diverting precious resources away from financially strapped public schools to fund private school voucher programs.
I’ve visited too many public schools where kids learning in classrooms that are crumbling around them. I’ve met too many teachers who are working full-time, but struggling to support a family. We should be investing more in public education, not less.
The ideas my opponent has offered on this subject are particularly dangerous. Not only has he proposed cutting 30 percent of the federal K-12 education budget, he’s called for gutting an additional 45 percent of the existing budget to fund private vouchers. This proposal would threaten funding for 70,000 high-poverty public schools, and devastate students who remain in the public school system. It would also be detrimental to many students who use the vouchers – research shows that students who attend private schools with vouchers often do worse than those who stay in their neighborhood public schools.
On top of all that, private schools are not subject to the same accountability, teacher quality standards, and legal requirements as public schools. For example, when a student with a disability uses a private school voucher, they might not receive the civil rights protections that would be guaranteed in public schools. Private schools can decline to accept students with disabilities, refuse to abide by the Individualized Education Plans of students they do accept, and segregate students with disabilities away from other kids. That’s why I believe we should keep public resources in our public schools.
Q: Do you believe that colleges and universities should be allowed to factor into admissions the race and ethnicity of applicants?
Clinton: I do. We need to guarantee that the doors to higher education are open not just to some, but to all — and that we are giving students equal opportunities to succeed and thrive. Having students with a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences enriches classroom discussions; fosters understanding and compassion; teaches students to see others as individuals; and prepares them to be leaders and citizens in our increasingly diverse country.
Q: What would you do to help students pay for college?
Clinton: Everywhere I go, I meet young people who tell me how concerned they are by the skyrocketing cost of college, or crushing student debt. It’s no wonder this is at the top of people’s minds: Tuition at in-state public colleges and universities has risen 40 percent in the last decade.
That’s why I’ve put forward a plan to make college tuition-free for working families, and debt-free for all. We’ll also lift the burden of student debt. It’s called the “New College Compact,” because we need everyone to do their part. We’ll make bold new investments in higher education, and require states that take part to reinvest in higher education to keep costs in check. And for those at private schools who need to take out debt, I’ll dramatically cut interest rates on student loans (so the government no longer profits from the loans), increase funds for student support and degree completion, restore year-round Pell Grants, simplify and expand income-based repayment, and take additional steps to ensure that students at these schools also get the support they need. Finally, I’ll double the education awards that AmeriCorps members who complete their national service can apply toward college expenses, to provide further avenues toward an affordable degree.
Q: Should federally backed student loans be made available to all students, no matter what degree or discipline they are pursuing?
Clinton: Federal loans should be available to all students who wish to pursue an education at an eligible school. However, we do need to make sure that students have all the information they need to make an informed decision about where to attend school, what course of study to select, how they will pay for their education, and what graduation and employment outcomes are most typical for those who make similar selections. The Obama administration has worked toward this level of transparency with its college scorecard, and I will build on those efforts.
Q: Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Clinton: There have been so many! I’ve never forgotten my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. King. She was so encouraging. She would always say, “Hillary, don’t put your light under a bushel basket!” I didn’t exactly understand the metaphor at the time, but I knew she was telling me to work hard, be true to myself, and stand up for what I believe. Every child should have someone in their life who helps them see, from the very beginning, that they have something of value to offer the world. That’s what Mrs. King did for me.
Q: Favorite and least favorite subject?
Clinton: I’ll start with least favorite, because that’s an easy one: choir. I can’t carry a tune to save my life. My teacher took pity on me (and the rest of the class) and kindly took me aside and asked me to mouth the words instead of singing them.
My favorite subjects were just about everything else – especially social studies.
Q: What is the most important thing you learned in college?
Clinton: For starters, I learned not to let minor stumbles and setbacks discourage me. Everyone falls down; what matters is that you pick yourself up. I also learned that it’s okay not to have a clear path. Nobody can predict the future – all you can do is make the best decision you can for yourself at the time. And then there’s maybe the most important lesson of all: When in doubt, call your parents! I was so lucky that mine were there to listen and give advice I still think about today.
Q: When you were in school, did you ever cheat?
Clinton: No – my father would have been so disappointed! He ran a small business, and taught us the value of hard work from a very early age. In our house, no one got away with cutting corners, period.