Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, seemed confused last Wednesday when he spoke at a news conference about the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine. Trump was reported by Politico to have mixed up Tim Kaine with former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean: “Her running mate Tim Kaine, who by the way did a terrible job in New Jersey….” declared Trump. I hope that by now most of us are less confused about Tim Kaine than Trump was last week, but perhaps there is still room to learn more about Kaine’s record.
So who is Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s choice as her running mate? A U.S. News & World Report piece last week explained Tim Kaine’s Hefty Education Resume: “When Hillary Clinton formally introduced her vice presidential pick, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, it quickly became clear that she chose someone with big education policy chops….”
Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, has a long history of work on behalf of children and families as a judge in juvenile and domestic relations court. During Kaine’s term as governor of Virginia, she became an advocate for adolescents in foster care. Kaine and his wife educated their three now-adult children in the public schools of Richmond, Virginia. Holton served until last week as Virginia’s Secretary of Education (She just resigned to join the presidential campaign.), a position she used, according to the Washington Post, to bring attention to the needs of the state’s public schools: “‘Teachers are teaching to the tests. Students’ and teachers’ love of learning and teaching are sapped,’ she wrote in 2015. ‘Most troublesome, Virginia’s persistent achievement gaps for low-income students have barely budged,’ she continued arguing that ‘our high stakes-approach’ with testing has made it more difficult to persuade the best teachers who work in the most difficult, impoverished schools… Like most of her fellow Democrats in the state, she has opposed the expansion of charter schools and other school-choice measures, and she has pushed for greater investments in public education, including teacher pay raises.”
A 2013 column Kaine himself wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch describes his commitment to public education as mayor of Richmond, governor of Virginia, and U.S. senator: “Anne and I are now empty-nesters. Combined, our three kids spent 40 school years in the Richmond Public Schools. While we both interact with the school system in our professional lives, we’ve learned even more from back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, attending school events and pulling crumpled notes to parents out of our kids’ backpacks. The lessons learned as parents have made me think about what works and what doesn’t work in Pre-K-12 education.”
What are Kaine’s education priorities as described in his 2013 column? First is support for the kind of individualized education planning mandated for students with special needs in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: “Most policy debate these days seems to be about charter schools or high-stakes testing. But I’m convinced that the most important reform has been under our noses since 1975, when legislation was passed to guarantee (that) children with diagnosed disabilities receive individualized learning plans tailored to meet their specific needs. Each child brings a mix of strengths and challenges to the classroom. Let’s use the insight gained through advances in educating kids with disabilities to leverage new technologies and teaching methods that can individualize learning for each child.”
Kaine continues by endorsing the expansion of high-quality pre-Kindergarten; reduction of number state-mandated, high-stakes tests; more emphasis on science and social studies at the elementary level; more exposure to exploring careers for students in middle school; a variety of paths to a high school diploma; more opportunities for exploration of the arts and computer science as requirements, not mere electives; and strong efforts to attract and hold on to excellent teachers: “As I listen to public debate, it often sounds like our main issue is how to get rid of bad teachers. But this problem pales beside the larger issue of how to keep good teachers. Too many great prospective teachers never enter the profession and too many great teachers leave too early over low salaries, high-stakes testing pressure, discipline challenges and an overall belief that society doesn’t value the profession.”
Louis Freedberg, executive director of California’s EdSource examines the Kaines’ strong record on education: “It seems clear that both Kaine and his wife favor strategies very different from the top-down, test-heavy, high-stakes reforms of the No Child Left Behind era.” And writing for the Education Opportunity Network, Jeff Bryant explains: “But in reviewing Kaine’s education policy chops, what’s in his record may not be as important as what isn’t: the current education establishment’s policy checklist of standardization, high-stakes testing, allowing charter schools to sort students by income and ability, and keeping teachers under the authoritative thumb of test-based evaluations—there’s none of that.”
Of course nobody can predict whether a Vice President will leave a mark on an administration’s record in any particular policy area. But Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine over another contender for the vice presidential slot, Cory Booker, sends what many hope is an important message. Booker has a long history of supporting private school vouchers and was described in Dale Russakoff’s The Prize in league with New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie in hatching the plan to charterize Newark, New Jersey’s public schools and in luring Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to underwrite the experiment.
Tim Kaine has a strong local, state, and federal record of support for democratically governed public schools —as Richmond Mayor, and Virginia Governor and U.S Senator.