New Coalition Seeks To Make Education A 2020 Election Issue

Education and children's welfare groups are calling on presidential candidates to form more comprehensive platforms.

A new coalition is announcing its plan to make education a central issue in the 2020 elections. The announcement Wednesday comes a day before Democratic presidential candidates debate in Houston.

The coalition of more than 20 education and children’s welfare groups includes two national teachers unions, the Center for American Progress and the Children’s Defense Fund. The coalition, called Education 2020, will release its platform Wednesday of dozens of specific policies related to early childhood education through college.

The group is calling for presidential candidates to put forward their own comprehensive education plans. And while Education 2020 does not plan to endorse a candidate, it will work to schedule briefings with Democrats and Republicans.

Education 2020 is pushing six principles: the need for a comprehensive system focusing on birth through career; equity; access to quality and affordable early childhood education; a strong K-12 system; access to postsecondary education; and investments in the educator workforce.

Among the dozens of proposals suggested by the coalition are that candidates take a nuanced approach to charter schools, noting that, although high-quality ones exist, there are also legitimate critiques of the system. It is also pushing comprehensive immigration reform and investments in a diverse teacher workforce.

Members of the coalition say that they see a window of opportunity in this election cycle. In a country characterized by divisions, polls show that both Republicans and Democrats support increased funding for public schools. Still, education hasn’t broken out as one of the more significant issues on the campaign trail so far.

“There’s a lot of need and opportunity to advance education, but it’s not really getting the attention or focus of the presidential candidates,” said Laura Schifter, policy director for Education 2020.

Some Democratic candidates have already put out detailed education plans, Schifter said, but the coalition is looking for ones that are more comprehensive and don’t focus on one aspect of the system over another.

“There’s a lot of need and opportunity to advance education, but it’s not really getting the attention or focus of the presidential candidates.”

- Laura Schifter, policy director for Education 2020

“Many of the candidates do have proposals in various areas, but we are not seeing them developed and elevated in a comprehensive way ― birth through career,” she said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, says it is meaningful to see a range of education groups pushing the same agenda. In previous years ― under the Obama administration, for example ― there might have been a divide about how to approach issues like high-stakes testing. The coalition is united in its support for public schools and public school educators.

“You think about what would have been an agenda of some of these groups 8, 10, 12 years ago. It’s quite different than this kind of agenda,” Weingarten said. “Together you can accomplish what is impossible to accomplish alone.”

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