Ten presidential candidates vying for the Democratic nomination stopped in Houston July 5 to discuss education policy at the #StrongPublicSchools forum hosted by the National Education Association.
Candidates answered questions submitted by NEA members and asked by NEA president Lily Eskelsen-Garcia on education-related topics including standardized testing, student loan debt, charter school funding and gun violence.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobochar, former U.S. House Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris all participated in the forum which tallied close to 10,000 attendees according to NEA.
Multiple candidates spoke out against high-stakes testing as a means of evaluating a school’s success.
Warren, who is a former teacher and University of Houston Alumna, said schools should not use high-stakes tests as a measure for success.
"It's about making the most of every minute we spend with our children, that’s not about testing, that's about the educational experience and we need out teachers to be front and center,”she said.
Cost of college
Candidates differed on approaches to student loan debt and increasing cost of college.
Warren, Sanders, Biden and DeBlasio touted universal free college while Inslee and Ryan promoted investment in trade schools and apprenticeship programs.
“If we could bail out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of several trillion dollars, we certainly can cancel student debt in America,” Sanders said.
While not every candidate laid out plans for universal free college, Warren said she supported a 2 cent tax on every dollar over $50 million for the “the top tenth of the top 1% of the great wealth in this country" she said.
Harris and O’Rourke also promoted student loan debt forgiveness.
Stances on federal funding on charter schools created a dividing lines among some candidates include O’Rourke, Warren and Inslee.
Sanders and DeBlasio called to end federal funding for charter schools and DeBlasio said it should serve as a deciding factor for the TEA’s endorsement.
O’Rourke did not take as strong of a stance on the issue saying he did not support voucher programs for private schools and private charter schools but he did support funding for public charter schools.
"Not a single dime of our tax dollars can go to vouchers for private charter schools,” he said. “There is a place for public charter schools."
O’Rourke’s comment on public charter schools drew some of the only boos from the audience of the afternoon.
Ryan and Harris were three of several candidates that fielded questions about preventing school shootings.
Ryan said he has a comprehensive plan that includes funding for counselors, school psychologists and social and emotional learning. He added that he supported multiple gun reform measures.
"[This issue] is unique to the United States, I support a universal background check, getting weapons of war off the streets, closing the Charleston loophole and studying gun violence as an epidemic."
Harris touted a 100-day plan that would be followed by executive action if her goals are not met by Congress.
"I will give the United States Congress 100 days to put comprehensive gun reform on my desk for me to sign and if they do not I will take executive action to pass comprehensive gun reform with universal background checks, ban import assault weapons, done."
Editor's note: this post has been updated for clarity.