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What Would A Hillary Presidency Mean For Education? Her 3 Most Probable Initiatives

Even with Hillary Clinton’s recent email-related difficulties, conventional wisdom still views her as a prohibitively likely presidential candidate and the Democrat most likely to be at the top of the ticket in 2016.

While Republicans will certainly have to grapple with Clinton’s foreign policy record and her beliefs on issues like the economy and healthcare, one area that may warrant particular attention is her approach to education. Unsurprisingly, the author of It Takes a Village has a record on education that is significantly at odds with the conservative worldview, and combines an ambitious agenda of expanded federal involvement in education with a relatively cozy friendliness with teachers unions, one that is increasingly out-of-fashion (even within the Democratic Party).

Based on her past history, what are the principles on education we are likely to see from candidate, and potentially President, Hillary Clinton?

1. Common Core on steroids

At this point, almost everybody is familiar with the outrage against Common Core.

While the realities of Common Core can be debated, there is absolutely no ambiguity regarding what Clinton has promoted: The creation of a true national curriculum, pushed on the states with federal dollars.

In 2007, at the same time she was starting up her presidential campaign, Clinton introduced a bill in the Senate that would have formed a national panel to craft nationwide standards in both mathematics and science. The bill would have gone even further than crafting standards, as it also would have provided funds to develop “promising practices in teaching mathematics and science and assessment items for each expectation,” in other words, it would have opened the door to federal curricula and tests.

While these national standards, curricula, and tests would have been voluntary, Clinton’s bill would also have allowed to Department of Education to create a grant program to incentivize states to adopt them. Such incentives are the same means the Obama administration used to promote Common Core, only with a far more direct link between the offered money and direct federal control.

2. Universal preschool … run by the feds, paid for by taxpayers

Of all Clinton’s positions on education, the one that appears closest to her heart, and the one that has been the subject of the biggest policy exertions, is her commitment to improving and expanding early childhood education.

Over the years, her commitment has had several iterations, but for a Clinton presidency it is likely to come in the form of a drastically increased federal role in early childhood education, paid for by a big infusion of taxpayer money.

As first lady, Clinton helped engineer the creation of Early Head Start (a program she now wants to triple in size), which expanded the offerings of the federal preschool program to those under the age of 3. Before than, while in Arkansas, she spearheaded the creation of a home instruction program for the low-income families with preschoolers. Less than two years ago, she used the Clinton Foundation as a vehicle to create Too Small to Fail, an initiative with the stated aim of promoting research on how to improve the lives of those under age 5, and then spreading that knowledge to parents and businesses.

President Obama has adopted Clinton’s advocacy for preschool; his most recent budget suggested spending over $7 billion a year to create universal preschool for low-income households. Clinton’s proposals have been even more ambitious, however. During her 2008 presidential run, she touted a plan to spend $10 billion a year to provide universal preschool.

That plan wouldn’t have just cost a pretty penny each year, it would also have centralized even more authority in Washington, as the plan was premised on giving grants to states that agreed to follow Washington directives regarding teacher certification and curriculum and to provide matching funds.

3. Catering to teachers unions

Even though Obama vanquished Hillary during the 2008 primaries, Hillary had more success when it came to courting teachers. She was endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its 1.3 million members, while the only other major national teachers union, the National Education Association, remained neutral.

Clinton’s advantage had a clear cause: She was friendlier to the demands of unionized teachers and less willing to pursue major reforms contrary to their interests. Since Obama’s election, he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have alienated teachers by embracing several reform proposals that are popular with the right and centrist Democrats. For example, Obama has expressed support for merit pay, and his administration has encouraged states to create systems for measuring teacher performance. Duncan has even offered cautious praise for the Vergara v. California decision gutting California’s generous tenure laws.

While Clinton expressed some support for merit pay during her Senate run in 2000, she has since retreated, denouncing it as “demeaning and discouraging,” and if she supports reforming teacher tenure, she hasn’t said much to indicate it. She has made vague references to the need to “weed out” bad teachers, but at the same time has expressly opposed testing teachers  past their early years.

As noted by Dropout Nation, the ties between Clinton and teacher’s unions go beyond policy pronouncements. AFT has given nearly $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, and Bill Clinton’s current chief of staff came over from the group. Donna Brazile, a longtime friend of Hillary and a likely player should she run in 2016, also co-chairs the group Democrats for Public Education, which was created to advance the interests of teacher unions against reformist Democrats.

Clinton has taken the uncontroversial position that better teachers are a key part of improving education, but once again, her solution has an approach strongly emanating from the federal government. Clinton has promoted creating a 100,000-strong National Teacher Corps, hired and paid by the federal government, as a means to improving public school teaching. If those teachers had an average salary and benefit cost of $80,000, hiring them would cost the government a cool $8 billion a year.

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