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What the 2016 Election May Hold for Education: A Voter’s Guide

  • October 31, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solution Architect

Election cycles always create a certain amount of consternation as we wait to see who will hold office and what impact potential shifts may hold on the issues we feel most strongly about. Education is one arena that will certainly feel some impact based on new officeholders at the federal and state level. Here is a rundown of the key issues in education and how they may be impacted at the K-12 and higher ed levels.


While the Republican platform does not address preschool, the Democratic platform guarantees universal preschool education.

English-Language Learners

On this topic, both parties seem to be in agreement that English-language learning is critical. The Republican platform states: “To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society.” Similarly, the Democratic platform calls for expanded access to English-language education.

School Choice

When it comes to school choice, Republicans seek to protect parents’ rights to direct their children’s education free from intervention. Their platform states: “we support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a one size-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level.”

The Democratic platform focuses on providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth, saying “we support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators.”

Testing and the Common Core

Both platforms favor moving away from standardized testing. Republicans want to completely repeal Common Core academic standards, saying that the party “repeats our longstanding opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourages the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulates the states which have successfully repealed it.” The platform argues against excessive testing and instead supports teacher flexibility and personalized learning.

Democrats also seek to decrease standardized testing but with a greater focus on its implications on student populations. Their platform states: “we oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations.” Instead, the platform supports parents’ ability to opt out of testing and encourages states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment that is more reliable and valid than standardized tests. Ultimately, this would end “test-and-punish” for students of color and for teachers.

K-12 Spending

Both platforms address Title 1 funding, a federal grant program designed to give educational assistance to students living in areas of high poverty. Republicans call for Title 1 portability. For example: “we propose that the bulk of federal money through Title 1 for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.”

The Democratic platform supports the expansion of Title 1 funding in areas of high poverty. It also supports additional federal investment in high-quality STEAM classes.

Internet Access

The Republican platform does not address internet access, but the Democratic platform pledges to connect every household to high-speed internet.

Teacher-Related Issues

Across K-12 and higher ed, the Republican platform supports protection for teachers against frivolous lawsuits, saying that “we applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom.” When it comes to hiring teachers, the platform urges school districts to recruit talent from the business community, STEM fields, and the military, especially among returning veterans. It also calls for background checks for all personnel interacting with children. Finally, the platform supports the replacement of the tenure system with a merit-based system.

The Democratic platform opposes legislation that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and right-to-work laws across K-12 and higher education.

College Accreditation

While the Democratic platform does not address college accreditation, the Republican platform favors separating accreditation from federal financing. It states: “in order to encourage new modes of higher education delivery to enter the market, accreditation should be decoupled from federal financing, and states should be empowered to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.”

Student Loans and Costs of Higher Education

Both platforms diverge on student loans and the costs of higher education. Republicans favor privatization while Democrats call for greater federal support. The Republican platform would replace the federal direct student loan program with private sector financing. It states that “the federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans. In order to bring down college costs and give students access to a multitude of financing options, private sector participation in student financing should be restored.” Additionally, the platform promotes competition created by for-profit offerings to reduce costs of higher education.

The Democratic platform endorses more support for students through free tuition at public colleges and universities while cracking down on for-profit schools. It also advocates for a refinancing of student debt at the lowest possible rate and an expansion of income-based repayment programs. The platform says, “Democrats will restore the prior standard in bankruptcy law to allow borrowers with student loans to be able to discharge their debts in bankruptcy as a measure of last resort.”

Campus Protests and Student Activism

The Democratic platform does not address this topic, but the Republican platform is critical of campus safe zones and their potential to infringe on freedom of speech. It states: “We call on state officials to preserve our public colleges, universities, and trade schools as places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance or ‘safe zones,’ as if college students need protection from the free exchange of ideas.”

Takeaway: No one can predict the political future or what it may hold, but there is opportunity to consider the various pros and cons of which direction education policy might take depending on who is elected in November. The topic is important to many Americans, however, and one hopes that the candidates will address them more prior to the election.


1. “Republican Platform 2016” Committee on Arrangements for the 2016 Republican National Convention. 2016.
2. “What the Republican Platform Says About Education” Politico. July 19, 2016.
3. “2016 Democratic Party Platform” Democratic Platform Committee. July 21, 2016.
4. “Democratic Party Platform: End ‘Test-and-Punish’ for Students of Color, Teachers” Education Week. July 25, 2016.