My colleague, Valentina Korkes, recently
asked Democratic presidential candidates, who have remained largely mum on K-12 education, where they stood on the issue. Unfortunately, Republican candidates haven’t done much better. A
new poll released today confirms that voters in eight crucial swing states believe the presidential candidates are not talking enough about education. Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention organization, surveyed 1,200 people in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. The poll found that 68 percent believed improving public education should be one of the top priorities for the next president—but only 36 percent have heard candidates discuss it, ranking last behind all other issues they’re aware of. Public education was behind improving the economy and creating jobs (90 percent), reducing the national debt (76 percent), and holding down federal government spending (75 percent). Three-quarters of those polled think it should be a top priority to “make sure all children in my community have an equal opportunity to get a good education, no matter their economic circumstances.” Democrats most strongly agreed with this statement, at 84 percent, followed by Independents (77 percent) and lastly, Republicans (67 percent). Poverty, and its effect on education, is also on voters’ minds. They see it as hindering the push for equity, with 63 percent of voters in swing states agreeing “the poverty level of students is a barrier to learning” versus 30 percent who did not. Hispanics, at 81 percent, most agreed with this sentiment. We found a slightly more nuanced response in our
own poll, which found that 68 percent of parents agree that schools and teachers can overcome the obstacles faced by needy children, so we should focus on improving schools serving students in poverty. Only 32 percent said schools and teachers can’t overcome the obstacles facing low-income children, so we should fix the problems of poverty first. Polls like this—and common sense—tell us that presidential candidates need to stop treating education like it is the third rail of national politics. These issues should no longer be relegated to the back of the room or crammed in during the final, rushed minute of a televised debate. Candidates need to tell the American people—parents, taxpayers, and business leaders who are questioning our ability to compete in an international marketplace—what they will do to improve public schools and fix obstacles to educational equity.
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders ...