I never thought Jason Palmer would run for president. I’ve known him as many things over the years – entrepreneur, executive, philanthropist, investor, and always a passionate advocate for education. So perhaps politics is the logical culmination for such expertise – enabling it to be channeled into work that can improve how U.S. education evolves, especially now as it intersects with technology, AI, and a rapidly changing world.
I recently spoke with Jason – a leader at organizations including the Gates Foundation, Kaplan, and New Market Ventures – about the impetus behind his run for the United States presidency. He shared what he would like to achieve as president in our new series, 5 Questions.
Why are you running for President?
My decision to engage in public service has been brewing for the past decade, since my time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it really accelerated over the course of 2023. My main reason is all of the reports about young people expressing helplessness and despair, an overall sense that the biggest problems of our era aren’t being addressed. Congress keeps getting more dysfunctional. Leaders of both parties seem unable or unwilling to find win-win solutions for the working class and the next generation. Traditional candidates are stoking the flames, offering 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems just to get elected—and then achieving very little once they win.
When education or workforce readiness comes up in our national debate, it’s about critical race theory and transgender bathrooms, not 21st-century skills, apprenticeships, credentials or quality jobs. This is unacceptable and I won’t allow the United States of America to sink into an abyss of ignorance.
My presidential campaign aims to pull America out of these conflicts by offering a different, positive, optimistic vision of how we can work together to reinvent and rebuild the American dream. We’ll focus on energizing young people and center-left/center-right problem solvers. They are important contributors who have become disengaged by our current political system and don’t support either big government or big business as the way forward. We must invest much more in our students and early-career workers by dramatically upgrading our education-to-workforce system. We will rebuild our government and laws on a modern platform that puts investments in people first.
Do you think you'll win?
Yes, I do think I can win—but this is definitely a longshot effort. Numerous polls show that nearly two-thirds of the voting public want an alternative to the two main candidates. More than 90 percent of younger Americans want an alternative. The American public wants someone younger, preferably someone who has built a successful career in business. They seek someone from outside Washington. My team and I have proven that we can win when it’s David vs. Goliath. That’s how it works in the startup world. We are going to show how a national presidential campaign can be run like a “lean startup” by leveraging artificial intelligence, growth hacking, and guerilla marketing. We are going to build on top of existing movements and create new multi-partisan coalitions to win.
What's been the biggest surprise so far?
Fundraising in politics is much more difficult than fundraising for a startup or a venture fund. I knew it would be harder going in, but I didn’t realize it would be a hundred times harder and more complicated.
I know you from your work in education. How does education fit into your platform?
Transforming our education system is a cornerstone of my campaign. America’s education and workforce systems haven’t been upgraded in decades. College is too expensive. Our K-12 curriculum needs to be more project-based and connected to the real world. Students need to be engaged and empowered to find purpose, start companies, develop missions, and learn 21st century skills. I promote embracing alternate forms of postsecondary education and credentialing that are lower in price, higher in return, and more workforce-aligned than traditional higher education. While the college-for-all boon of the last fifteen years has had certain advantages, and the undergraduate degree remains the gold standard, the financial incentives of higher education have led to millions of young Americans drowning under $1.8 trillion in student debt. Smart new policies are needed to reduce the cost of college and solve this crisis. After a decade in this industry, I have some innovative ideas.
Technology can and should empower new ways of learning and preparing for future success. My administration plans to introduce specific programs to that end. We cannot afford to waste time with so-called culture wars. We must push back against the dangerous and antiquated practice of book banning. I support rapidly implementing personalized learning powered by technology in America’s public schools and implementing policies that encourage states to give every teacher a 25 percent raise. One of my other specific proposals is to merge and reorganize the Education and Labor Departments into a new entity–the Department of Talent.
Any other big surprises up your sleeve?
Yes, I’ll be participating in a nationally-televised Democratic debate with invited candidates President Joe Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Marianne Williamson, and others on Thursday, Jan. 18 in Los Angeles. The Free & Equal Elections Foundation will host the event.