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Pell Grants, Sandy Hook Highlight Brief Nods to Education in Democratic Debate

On a night when the terrorist attacks in Paris and the economy dominated the debate featuring the three Democratic presidential hopefuls, education only got a few passing mentions, just like in their previous debate. And when it did, none of the candidates said anything that really broke new ground. 


During the Saturday debate, held at Drake University in Iowa and hosted by CBS, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley made a point of bragging about his state's number one ranking in Education Week's Quality Counts report. And Maryland schools did achieve that distinction from 2009 to 2013. 

However, our research center folks recently changed how they calculated those state by state rankings. And for 2015, right as O'Malley left office, Maryland slipped to third place, behind Massachusetts and New Jersey.

And responding to O'Malley's comments on Twitter, Andy Smarick, a first-year member of the Maryland state school board, who served in the Education Department under President George W. Bush, wasn't so eager to tout the Old Line State's academic performance:

As in the last debate, college affordability got a nod. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., scoffed at a moderator's suggestion that the significant share of students in higher education who don't graduate make greater investments in college not worth it. (Sanders wants to make public colleges and universities free for all students.) And he stressed that college access was particularly important to children coming from low-income backgrounds. A chance at free college could inspire them to work hard as K-12 students, he said. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has her own plan to reduce college costs, also made a pitch for allowing Pell Grants to be used to defray living expenses for college students. As it happens, the U.S. Department of Education announced a pilot program that will test a new use for Pell Grants—but it's for high school students in dual-enrollment courses.

In a discussion about gun control, O'Malley indicated that he pushed for greater restrictions on firearms after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. For a look at what happened in Maryland as well as in the rest of the states in 2013 after those shootings, check out our interactive presentation about school safety legislation introduced that year. 

There were no direct questions about K-12.

Photo: Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, from left, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley walk to the stage before the Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP

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