2016 | First Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump on Education | Part 2: What’s the Proper Federal Role in Education?

2016 Presidential Elections

September 21, 2016

This is the 2nd in a series of pre-debate blog posts. To see Part 1,  click: here.

By Charles Barone and Marianne Lombardo

On December 10th, 2015, President Obama signed into law the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), Congress’s long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the first reauthorization since No Child Left Behind in 2002. The conference report passed the Senate by a margin of 85-12 and the House by 359-64. Democrats were unanimous. All 76 “no” votes – 12 in the Senate and 64 in the House – were from Republicans.


Upon the bill’s passage, Hillary Clinton released a statement wherein she credited the bill for the new flexibility provided to states while at the same time emphasizing the importance of the federal role in overseeing ESSA implementation.

The Every Student Succeeds Act is not perfect, but it puts us on a path to provide states and teachers flexibility to serve the needs of their students while also ensuring schools are held accountable to raise achievement for all students—particularly for low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities….

Effectively implementing this law will take commitment and cooperation—by our parents, teachers, schools and states. It will also require that the federal government continue to play a critical role in working towards an America where a world-class education is available to every child. That includes overseeing the design and implementation of effective state accountability systems.

 To the best of our knowledge, Trump hasn’t said anything about the Every Student Succeeds Act. His statements on K-12 education and the federal role have been all over the place:

“I’m not cutting services. But I’m cutting spending. But I may cut Department of Education.”

 – Donald Trump, October 2015, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace

Education through Washington, D.C., I don’t want that. I want local education, I want the parents and I want all of the teachers, and I want everybody to get together around a school and to make education great.”

– Donald Trump, March 10, 2016, Twelfth Republican Primary Debate

Anderson Cooper:  “In your opinion, what are the top three functions of the United States government?”

Trump:  “Well, the greatest function of all by far is security for our nation.  I would also say health care, I would also say education.” 

– Donald Trump, March 29, 2016, CNN, Milwaukee Republican Presidential Town Hall

Questions we’d love to see Lester Holt ask (but probably won’t):

To both candidates: Last year, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. While the law provides a great deal of new flexibility to states regarding testing, accountability, and school interventions, it also has requirements in each of those areas. Would you continue going down the path the Obama Administration has followed to set clear guidelines for monitoring and enforcing the law? Or would you open up policies like annual student testing for re-negotiation?

To Donald Trump: Earlier this year, you said that education is one of the top three functions of the federal government. You’ve also said that you may eliminate the Department of Education and that you think all education policy should be decided locally. Can you clarify your position on the federal role in education?