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The debate moderators missed the opportunity to ask about a real Democratic divide

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders mixed it up on plenty of questions, but not on K-12 education.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders mixed it up on plenty of questions, but not on K-12 education.
(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

So far, none of the presidential debates — Democratic or Republican — have asked about K-12 education. That's a huge missed opportunity.

Education really is a divisive issue within the Democratic Party, and one on which Hillary Clinton has indicated she might take a different tack than President Obama.

Last week, Obama signed a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. For the first time in more than two decades, it will scale back the federal government's role in education. While teachers unions and congressional Republicans both like the new law, it's received criticism from the left from those who say that states can't be trusted to safeguard the well-being of poor and minority students. (Clinton said in a statement that she supports the law, although it's not perfect.)

This would have been the ideal jumping-off point for a question about education policy:

President Obama just signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which keeps the standardized testing requirement from No Child Left Behind but gives states more freedom to decide which schools are succeeding, and what to do about the ones that aren't. Do you trust states to make the right decisions without federal oversight? And how would you work within the constraints of the law to improve education in the US?

Clinton has suggested she'll be closer to teachers unions than Obama

K-12 education has been almost entirely absent from the 2016 campaign trail so far. But Clinton's few public statements suggest that she might be friendlier to teachers unions than President Obama, who often antagonized unions with his competitive grant programs, support for charter schools, and push to evaluate teachers based in part on their students' test scores.

Clinton, who has been endorsed by both major teachers unions, has suggested charter schools cherry-pick their students. She opposes tying teacher pay to their students' test scores, saying there's "no evidence" that approach works. And she's said that getting more funding for traditional federal education programs, such as federal money to educate poor students and students with disabilities, would be a top priority.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has hardly talked about K-12 eduction at all. And former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was a strong supporter of charter schools while in office. This is a big and important division within the Democratic Party, one that debates repeatedly miss their chance to highlight.

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