Why we should move the education conversation from budgets to presidential platforms

February 12, 2016

By Holly Kragthorpe

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Compfight cc

Every four years, the presidential election cycle spurs our country to have a national conversation about the direction in which our country should be heading. This is where both our water cooler conversations and newspapers delve deeper into issues of great importance: foreign policy, taxes, civil rights, immigration, among others.  Yet election cycle after election cycle, we, as a country, rarely take that conversation about education beyond “our students deserve better.”  As true as this may be, we are not going to be able to transform the quality of education our students receive until we give candidates’ education policy ideas the same scrutiny as we do so many other issues.  

We have a long way to go in this cycle in particular, as debate after debate has flown by for both parties, in which how to improve our schools gets little more than a fleeting mention.  I get it. Unlike other policy areas that divide neatly along party lines, education is messier, more complicated. And with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act behind us, the issue of education is just not getting any traction.

Election cycle after election cycle, we, as a country, rarely take that conversation about education beyond “our students deserve better.”  

Rather than focusing on what divides us, candidates for office must come to recognize that improving our education system is a priority that has the power to unite diverse and powerful groups of voters and organizations. Education is an issue that deserves to be prioritized as an issue worthy of all our channels of communication: from the water cooler to social media to the dinner table and especially the presidential debates.

Let me suggest a good jumping off point for this national conversation on education: President Obama just this week released his proposed budget for 2017.  The education budget reflects the President’s educational priorities, among them a bold proposal to allocate $1 billion to attract and retain effective teachers and school leaders in our highest need schools.

As an experienced educator who now works on national education policy, I see supporting and elevating the teaching profession as critical to improving education in the United States—and I know I’m not alone. One aspect of the President’s budget request is the new RESPECT: Best Job in the World program which would provide more compensation and support for effective teachers in hard-to-staff schools. This kind of new funding would be a huge win for traditionally underserved students because it could help districts to transform teaching in high-poverty schools into a more prestigious role for effective educators.

But it is not enough for me or for anyone else to sit in silent agreement, reading over this proposal for funds that are far from becoming a reality unless Congress takes action. It’s not even enough for me to talk to my colleagues at Educators 4 Excellence, who work to involve teachers in the education policy process, or to the diverse set of partner organizations who make up Teach Strong, who have united to modernize and elevate the teaching profession.

It is my job—as a parent, a community member, a voter—and the job of anyone who cares about the state of education in America to invite the broader public into this conversation.  We all need to be talking about proposals like these and the challenges that our students, teachers, and schools face, not just at the PTA meeting, education conference, or at the Department of Education.  

We also need to be talking with our neighbors and friends who work outside the education realm. Regardless of their particular line of work, this nation’s quality of education will impact their children, not to mention shape the next generation of educators, doctors, lawyers, architects and civic and political leaders.  

We can’t force our political candidates to talk about their plans to improve education for our kids, but we can show them that we are listening, and if they want our votes, this is no longer a policy area they can afford to ignore.

Holly Kragthorpe is a former classroom teacher and the National Policy Manager for Educators 4 Excellence.  She would like to discuss education policy with you, anytime, anywhere and she hopes her future President will as well.

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