Presidential Candidates School Voters on Ed. Policy at 2015 Summits | Part 2: ESEA and the Department of Education

Presidential Candidates go Back to School on Education Policy in New Hampshire PART 2 | HSLDA Blog

In a recent summit hosted by education nonprofit The Seventy Four, several presidential candidates were given the opportunity to elaborate on the details of their education policies.

Needless to say, this gave us a goldmine of interesting quotes from some of the candidates—and we’ve just finished prospecting. (We covered the Common Core and Pre-K quotes from the Summit in Part 1 of this piece, which you can find here.)

You can follow along with the videos of the Summits here. We’ve also included timestamps so you can track along.

Jeb Bush: Video

Carly Fiorina: Video

John Kasich: Video

Bobby Jindal: Video

Chris Chistie: Video


Without a doubt, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (known as ESEA) is a contentious issue in every policy circle. This massive piece of federal legislation (50 years old as of September 2015) directs all of the U.S. Department of Education’s spending priorities and programs.

While this legislation is technically supposed to be reauthorized (changed and improved) every six years, it has not been reauthorized since 2001—as No Child Left Behind. That means that many measures in place in the authorization from 14 years ago have continued with only the most minor changes.

Much of the controversy over the current ESEA reauthorization focuses on its proposed changes to school assessment requirements, funding mandates, and a continued propagation of federal education overreach.

Congress is trying to reauthorize ESEA in a way that increases local control over education—a major change from the 2001 version of the law. However, the ESEA reauthorization currently being debated in Congress has seen attempts to expand of federal pre-K programs, as well as attempts to expand federal involvement in education.

Homeschoolers are currently exempt from all provisions of ESEA—and HSLDA is very involved on Capitol Hill to make sure it stays that way. For a detailed write-up on this legislation, check out HSLDA’s article on the “Nuts and Bolts of ESEA Reauthorization for Homeschoolers.”

If ESEA is not reauthorized under the Obama administration, there will be tremendous pressure on the next president to update this aging legislation. This means that candidate positions on ESEA are more important than ever, as the next administration will likely make significant changes to today’s federal education programs.

Jeb Bush:

“The reauthorization of the ESEA law, the K-12 federal law, is an important one. That’s the one thing apart from this flexibility that neither bill has as dramatic as I’d like to see it. The one thing that I think is important is just a simple requirement of accountability, of a test to measure student learning… If you don’t measure, you basically don’t care. The kind of test you use should be state-driven.” 21:40

John Kasich:

“What would I do? There are about 100+, maybe 110, federal programs. I think we need to bundle them up, and we need to send them back to the states so that the states can develop their own ideas about how best to educate their kids. That’s back to, ‘We see what you do.’ We look at Ohio, we look Illinois, we look at Texas… And I want to move those programs. I want to empower people in the states. I do not want the states taking education money and using it to pave roads. You hear what I’m saying? We don’t take education money and fix our highways because we can’t figure out how to deal with that. 

“I think we have to make sure that education money goes to educate. And I think on special education, that’s a separate block grant that should come back, and special education is very expensive, so we have to make sure we maintain that.” (25:00)

Carly Fiorina:

“I am really encouraged, honestly, by the version that is in the Republican House. Because what it does is push money out; it puts more and more accountability into the hands of parents and communities; it gives parents the choice to opt out of standardized testing; it puts more money in the hands of communities. I am very encouraged by that bill, and I hope it is the version that is ultimately adopted.” (21:07) 

Chris Christie:

“Any place that we can demand accountability, we should. There’s an enormous amount of money being spent. So if this is the way the bill is going, than I hope if they’re going to reauthorize it in the way that they are, that they’re going to have some accountability in there. If I were president, I wouldn’t go in that direction though. I would say the accountability should be on the local level. And quite frankly, parents are the best people to hold educators accountable. Who cares more about education than a mother and a father?” 19:51


While the discussion surrounding ESEA reauthorization focuses on one particular law on the books, it hints at a larger policy debate: What is the role of the federal government in education?

Here’s what some of the 2016 candidates said about that.           

Jeb Bush:

“I’d love to see this notion of portability of federal monies, so that the federal government is a partner in reform, rather than kind of a top-down driver / provider of money with all sorts of strings attached.” 19:25 

John Kasich:

Fundamentally, we need to begin to transfer money, influence, and power out of that town in many areas where it would be more effective where we live. See, Washington operates under a one-size-fits-all mentality. So I have a size 10 foot, and you have a size 6 foot, but we all have to put our feet in the same size shoe—that doesn’t work. Is local control perfect when schools are failing, like they were in Youngstown?” (26:03)

Carly Fiorina:

“It’s pretty obvious what’s not working: the Department of Education has gotten money every year for roughly 30 years, and yet… we’re not improving in terms of achievement rate. When Washington spends more money, the quality of education in this country does not improve. We also know that how much money you spend doesn’t always have much to do with outcome… What doesn’t work are big bureaucratic programs in Washington DC.” (3:30)

“I believe the first role of a president of the United States, as it revolves around education, is to devolve as much money, as much responsibility, and as much accountability, into the states and into communities and parents hands as possible.” 13:55 

“So, one metric of success that I would have for a Fiorina administration is that the Department of Education is a whole lot smaller, spends a whole lot less money, and has a whole lot less responsibility than it has today.” (14:18) 

Chris Christie:

“Having some funding going from the federal government to the localities, to help to equalize some gaps, and that’s it. I don’t see the federal department of education deciding curriculum, dictating choices to local folks. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way that a bureaucrat in Washington D.C. understands more about how to educate a kid in New Hampshire, or in New Jersey, or in New York, or Iowa or South Carolina, then do the people locally on the ground there.” 13:53

“It’s one of the things that annoyed me so much about Race to the Top. Not a bad idea in concept, but in fact they laid more and more requirements and strings on it, and it takes more and more control away from the localities. That frustrates teachers, and that infuriates parents.” 14:33 


Without exception, each of the presidential candidates interviewed in the New Hampshire Summit touted a plan to make education more local. That’s big news, considering that Common Core and local education was barely mentioned in the entire 2012 election cycle.

As federal involvement in education continues to grow at a breakneck pace, it will continue to be important for our elected leaders to keep giving the power to make educational decisions back to parents and state or local governments. This type of engaging dialogue on changing the current negative status quo of centralized educational overreach signals an important first-step in the job of empowering parents to decide what is best for the education of their kids.

As we continue to dialogue about the future of our country, it is crucial that homeschoolers and concerned citizens continue to advocate for ideas that will protect their educational freedom and reduce the dangerous, top-down approach that federal involvement in education has taken.

— Andrew Mullins

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Andrew Mullins.

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