What About The Children? Third Presidential Debate Offers No Insight On Issues Like Education

The nation heard more of the same during the third and final presidential debate last night. Once again, the main topics of discussion were things like national security, jobs and the deficit.   

The state of the economy and how we’ll fight ISIS are important, to be sure. But we heard a lot about these issues during the first two debates. At times, last night’s debate felt like a repeat of the first two.   

Things got off to a more hopeful start with a question about the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s a vacancy on the court now, so this issue is very important – but the discussion soon veered into the meaning of the Second Amendment. Moderator Chris Wallace didn’t ask Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton anything about religious liberty and how it is to be defined.

Since the overwhelming majority of American students attend public schools, the third debate should have touched on public education.

Public education also got overlooked. It’s remarkable to me that this issue, which touches the lives of just about all Americans, never received a full discussion during three debates. I’m sure many people would like to know more about each candidate’s view on what role the federal government should play in education. After all, 90 percent of American children attend public schools.

Fortunately, The Washington Post recently decided to ask Clinton and Trump about what they would do to improve public education.

Trump’s campaign didn’t provide detailed information. One of his spokeswomen released a statement read in part, “[Trump] want[s] every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom – the civil right – to attend the school of their choice.”  

In September, Trump released a plan to create a massive federal voucher program. That proposal earned a failing grade at the time from Americans United. Instead of strengthening America’s public schools, AU noted, Trump wants to take $20 billion in federal funds away from them and hand at least some of that money over to private religious schools. That’s a major First Amendment concern.

Clinton, for her part, gave The Post a more in-depth response. Among Clinton’s answers was a thorough rebuke of “school choice” schemes.

“I do not believe we should be diverting precious resources away from financially strapped public schools to fund private school voucher programs,” she told the newspaper. “I’ve visited too many public schools where kids learning in classrooms that are crumbling around them. I’ve met too many teachers who are working full-time, but struggling to support a family. We should be investing more in public education, not less.”

Clinton also noted that “private schools are not subject to the same accountability, teacher quality standards, and legal requirements as public schools. For example, when a student with a disability uses a private school voucher, they might not receive the civil rights protections that would be guaranteed in public schools.”

It’s great that The Post focused on this issue, but how many people will see the article? Many more watched the debates. The moderators for all three events should have worked together to avoid repetition and ensure that a range of issues – education among them – was covered.

A primary purpose of these debates is to educate the public so they can make an informed choice on Election Day. Sadly, the three presidential debates failed to shed light on some really important topics. They were missed opportunities.

Is it too early to hope for something better in 2020?