ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's time now for a Platform Check - when we examine what Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they would do if they become president.
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HILLARY CLINTON: Raise the national minimum wage so people...
DONALD TRUMP: We're going to have the biggest tax cut since Ronald Reagan.
CLINTON: We have to reform our criminal justice system.
TRUMP: A very, very strong border.
SIEGEL: Today, we're going to hear about education. The candidates aren't saying much about it in these final weeks of the campaign, but voters often tell pollsters it's a top issue. And to dissect where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand is NPR's Eric Westervelt, who covers education for us. Hello, Eric.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Education is a local responsibility. Why should we pay so much attention to what the presidential candidates are saying about education?
WESTERVELT: It is largely local, but the feds still have a big role. I mean, they have an enforcement role for disadvantaged students, minorities, around civil rights, students with a disability. And they still spend a lot of money. There's some $15 billion a year that goes toward what's called Title I money to help poor students.
More than half of all schools in America get some of this Title I money. They rely on it, in many cases, to help their programs. There are then Pell Grants to help students in financial need pay for college. That's some $30 billion.
And then some $12 billion helping students with a disability that goes to local districts. So together, you know, both the money and the enforcement mechanism, Robert, that's a lot of leverage and influence.
SIEGEL: Now, we have heard Secretary Clinton talk about universal pre-K for 4-year-olds and about making public college tuition free for students whose parents make $125,000 a year or less.
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CLINTON: I believe all our kids deserve universal pre-kindergarten so they can be ready to go to school. They deserve good schools with good teachers, regardless of where they live. And you especially deserve to have college affordable enough that you can go and graduate.
SIEGEL: Eric, that sounds expensive. Has Hillary Clinton explained how she'll pay for it?
WESTERVELT: No, she hasn't. It's really not clear. She hasn't said. I mean, there are estimates that, together, her pre-K and early childhood programs, Robert, could cost up to half a trillion dollars.
SIEGEL: And what, if anything, is she saying about the years in the middle, between pre-K and college - K-12?
WESTERVELT: Yeah, she doesn't talk much about K-12. I mean, she's talked about helping schools rebuild infrastructure, you know, promoting computer science education. But there's not a lot of details or meat on the bone there policy-wise or how she'll pay for it - you know, question marks for her on K-12.
SIEGEL: Let's turn to Donald Trump. If he talks about education at all, it's usually to criticize the Common Core State Standards. Here he is at a rally in Bedford, N.H.
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TRUMP: Common Core will be ended, and disadvantaged...
TRUMP: And disadvantage children will be allowed to attend the school of their choice.
SIEGEL: Eric, does a president have the authority to actually do something about Common Core?
WESTERVELT: No, these are state standards, and a president cannot repeal them; states can. And it's not clear to me. Robert that Donald Trump, from what he says on the stump and on his website, really understands what the Common Core State Standards are. These were passed by states, led by states largely.
The feds did offer some incentives, as they do to states on many things, from highways to health care, if they adopted strong standards. But this is - this is state policy, and he has no power to - to repeal them. And I think his attempt to paint Common Core as this giant, nasty federal takeover is just not accurate.
SIEGEL: Has he described his plans either for early childhood education or college affordability?
WESTERVELT: They're just real sketches. I mean, one conservative we spoke to said his plans and his policies on education are like performance art - we shouldn't read that much into them. I mean, he's talked a little bit about trying to make child care costs tax deductible and a push to provide unemployment benefits for new mothers, but not a lot of details on how he would pay for that or how some of these shifts would - would work policy-wise at the federal level.
SIEGEL: Eric, would either Trump's or Clinton's plan do much to reduce the huge inequities and level the playing field for poor and minority students?
WESTERVELT: It's hard to say, Robert. Closing these stubborn gaps by race and income is tough. It's an intractable problem. But a president has this huge leverage in both enforcement of federal civil rights law and in these billions of dollars in Title I funds to try to make a difference.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt. Eric, thanks.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.