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Which K-12 Issues Could Grab the Spotlight in the Second GOP Debate?

The second set of debates featuring Republican presidential hopefuls will take place Wednesday. Based on what happened in last month's debate and elsewhere on the campaign trail since then, what education issues could grab some attention? (The two GOP debates, divided up based on polling numbers, will take place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and will be broadcast by CNN.)

• Not surprisingly, the Common Core State Standards were the most prominent education policy issue featured in the August debate on Fox News. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the most prominent common-core supporter in the field, said he wants "higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way" but without interference from Washington. That position, Sen. Marco Rubio countered, was unsustainable because the federal government "will never be satisfied" with merely supporting the common core and instead would turn it and other policies into mandates.

Will front-runner Donald Trump repeat his June attack on Bush for supporting the common core? Will Rubio reprise his criticism? And will a candidate decide that it's time for the only other fan of the common core in the field, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to take some heat as well? 

• Since that first debate, using a different tactic, fellow candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has attacked Bush for supporting policies that link the former Florida governor to his brother, President George W. Bush, and that Paul claims increased the government footprint in education. (The senator's claim about just how much that footprint grew, however, is off the mark, at least from a spending perspective.)

Undeterred, Bush touted a college-affordability plan at a campaign event Sept. 1, although he won't release the plan until next month. That policy issue is getting a lot of attention from Democratic hopefuls ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Will Bush release any details or hints about his college plan during the debate on Wednesday?

• We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the August event hosted by The Seventy Four, an online education news website, in which six GOP hopefuls focused on education policy. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fan of giving teachers' unions a sock in the kisser, admitted plainly that he had withdrawn his support for the common core, saying, "It doesn't work." And former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina attacked the Race to the Top program as a "racket" because of what she said was the inappropriate relationship between federal grants and states' policy decisions. 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stated his preference for all federal funding for K-12 to be transformed into block grants for states to use as they wish. Walker, by the way, has launched his own big rhetorical attack on public-employee unions in recent days, claiming, for example, that he'd abolish the National Labor Relations Board. It's possible that he'll continue hammering this anti-union theme home on Wednesday.

• With all that said, you may not want to bet big on education getting a lot of attention on Wednesday. As my coworker Alyson Klein pointed out last month, the contenders' websites are very light on details when it comes to K-12 policy. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mentions his plan to expand school choice to low-income families, and Christie talks about his campaigns to end tenure and other substantive issues. But aside from attacks on the common core, there's not much to see from the field in general.


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