What will happen with education in the 2012 presidential election?

As the Republican presidential primary rolls on to Nevada, many are already looking toward the general election, discussing what the candidates will have to do to win the White House. A panel held on Wednesday, February 1st, at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning public-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., discussed what role education will likely play in politics during this election year. The full session can be viewed here. Some highlights included:

  • Regardless of who wins the Republican presidential nomination, Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, predicted that the nominee won’t attack President Barack Obama on education. “The mojo for education policy has strangely shifted back to governors around the country,” he said. “We’re going to start to see governors again be the drivers of most of what’s happening in education with a lot of focus led by the federal government for sure. But it’s going to become very difficult to argue that the Obama administration and [U.S. Education Secretary Arne] Duncan have been obnoxious with their use of the bully pulpit.”

  • Education will be more important in this election than it has in the two previous ones, and a growing number of people think public education in the country isn’t on the right track, according to David Winston, president of The Winston Group, a D.C.-based strategy and message design firm. Education is seen as being closely linked to jobs and the economy, which are the most important issues for the majority of Americans. “What you’re going to watch is the candidates try to figure out this economic side in terms of this discussion. I think for virtually all them, it’s a new paradigm in terms of how to look at it,” he said. “You’re going to watch a lot of candidates sort of make it up as they go along … since there’s no clear track record.”

  • The existence of the Tea Party has changed, and will continue to change, the way education is talked about on Capitol Hill. The group has vehemently opposed things like the Race to the Top competition—a federal grant initiative that rewarded states for making certain reforms—for taking too much power away from states. “The Tea Party has pushed the debate of the federal role and overreaching,” said Peter Cunningham, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education. “The whole debate about what the federal government should do and shouldn’t do is an important one, but it’s not the most important one. The most important one is what’s happening to kids.”