In recent election cycles, the economy, healthcare and immigration were the key issues among voters. But as the 2024 presidential election nears, education policy is emerging as a top concern for many.
On August 23, Republican presidential hopefuls participated in the first primary debate of the 2024 presidential race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Eight of the 12 confirmed GOP candidates participated in the debate, not including former President Donald Trump. While several candidates garnered attention that evening, Trump remains the party’s frontrunner.
“I’ve been a Trump supporter since like 2018,” vice president of the College of William and Mary’s College Republicans Club James Schlik ’26 said. “I’ll probably [vote for him]. Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing I can really foresee him doing because I think he’s a great political leader, a hero in many ways.”
Bella Hosang ’25, the president of College Republicans, shared the same sentiment, expressing minimal doubt in Trump’s re-election.
“I am a Trump person. I have always backed Trump. I will always back him. I’ve backed him before and I won’t ever not back him unless for some reason he doesn’t run,” Hosang said.
As for the Democrats, the Democratic National Committee has decided not to sponsor any primary for its three candidates. Traditionally, the incumbent does not participate in debate, and neither former environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. nor author Marianne Williamson hold enough standing in the polls to challenge President Joe Biden.
Considering Biden’s standing, the Young Democrats chapter at the College has instead focused its energy on upcoming state and local government elections. The Virginia State Senate general election is scheduled for Nov. 7.
“Most of our party is behind the incoming Joe Biden. I mean, he is really our only viable option, you know,” Young Democrats Outreach Chair Matt Swenson ’26 said.
The President of the College’s Liberal Student League Giorgianna Heiko ’25 also advocated for Biden’s re-election.
“Yeah, so I’m actually in the Green Party, but I’ll probably be voting for Biden almost certainly as long as he is still alive,” Heiko said.
Education-based policies have come to the forefront of recent political discussion and debate. All three political clubs credit the increased focus on education issues to the impact of COVID-19, as parents became more involved in their students’ virtual education.
“Parents were able to look in and see what their children were being taught, how the teachers were teaching it, what they were saying, if they were interjecting their political ideas, and parents found out,” Hosang said. “Yes, teachers are talking about politics. They’re talking about other things that should be taught by a parent and not by a teacher in a public school.”
The Parents’ Rights Movement, which began in 2009, is a movement seeking to transfer the responsibility of shaping public school curricula from the federal government to the parents of children in K-12 education. Publicly supported by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the movement has gained significant support among conservatives in recent years. To some members of the movement, this also implies the dismantling of the federal Department of Education. However, members of College Republicans view that perspective as going too far.
“I don’t know if we would necessarily agree with completely abolishing the Department of Education,” Schlik said. “I think there are many ways it can be utilized to promote good education.”
it’s important to call into question not only, you know, the methods by which the education system is structured, but also what is actually being taught to the students, because all education is values.
Schlik also commented on Critical Race Theory and its impact on the education system.
“Critical Race Theory has been a big point of contention, and I think a lot of the discourse around that is good,” Schlik said. “I think that, you know, it’s important to call into question not only, you know, the methods by which the education system is structured, but also what is actually being taught to the students, because all education is values. Education, you know, whether it be anything, any kind of, any time you’re teaching someone else’s kids, you’re not only inherently teaching the values, but you’re also inherently, you know, guiding their future in a way.”
Meanwhile, LSL member Aedan Corrigan ’26 views the increasing anxiety surrounding curriculum changes as an overreaction.
“[The Parents’ Rights movement’s popularity] is just kind of a vague wave, and I think that it’s just going to crash over the problems of education in the next election cycle and not go anywhere,” Corrigan said.
Swenson, who is majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Educational Policy, also supports maintaining the Department of Education and believes that subjects such as Critical Race Theory and Sex Education are necessary for the growth and development of children.
I think that it’s not in our best interests for students individually and for our society as a whole to stay silent on those topics. And I don’t think we should shy away from them just because some people think they’re controversial. I definitely think with queer [identity], race, sex ed, all that, we need to talk about in order to move forward in society.
“I think those are all important topics that need to belong in our classroom if we’re ever going to move forward and progress,” Swenson said. “I think that it’s not in our best interests for students individually and for our society as a whole to stay silent on those topics. And I don’t think we should shy away from them just because some people think they’re controversial. I definitely think with queer [identity], race, sex ed, all that, we need to talk about in order to move forward in society.”
Despite differing opinions on the scope of classroom curricula, individuals from across the political spectrum generally agree that higher education is too expensive.
During his presidency, President Biden has made several attempts to offer aid to individuals burdened by student loan debt. One of his most celebrated initiatives, a three-year suspension of interest-accumulation on student loans during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently ended Sept. 1.
In this post-suspension period, although interest will continue to accrue, Biden has announced another 12-month grace period until the implementation of his Save on Valuable Education and Revised Pay as you Earn plans July 1, 2024. The SAVE plan operates on an income-based model and doesn’t require former or current students making less than $15 an hour to pay their loans, which may eventually be forgiven altogether. The subsequent REPAYE plan requires individuals to allocate 10 percent of their income toward loan payments.
Members of each club recognize that the increasing cost of education will eventually make college unattainable for many students. LSL member Ari Pearlstein ’26 views the lack of transparency regarding college affordability as larger than mere economics.
“For me, I view this more as a moral issue,” Pearlstein said. “I just think that it’s wrong to force people of lower incomes to have to just go to college and risk being straddled with debt for most of the rest of their life.”
As the 2024 presidential election approaches, the discourse surrounding education, the federal government’s role in curriculum development and student debt will continue to evolve as the candidates build their campaign platforms.
Note from Sarah Devendorf (Standards and Practices Editor): The College Socialists were reached out to for comment and did not provide a response to our news team.