Joe Biden hopes to transform the U.S. education system by tripling federal funding for schools serving low-income students and offering universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The education plan is the former vice president’s first detailed policy initiative as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination. The proposal, which he unveiled at an event Tuesday in Houston, would also double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses and social workers in schools and include additional federal funding for improving public school buildings.
'Everybody’s going to tell you how much they value education,' Biden said. 'Well, I’ve got a saying, show me your budget, and I’ll show you what your values are.'
Biden would reinstate Department of Education guidance designed to improve diversity at schools, and simplify an existing student loan forgiveness program for teachers and other civil servants. Only 1% of applicants to the current loan-forgiveness program for public and nonprofit workers had been approved to have their debts erased at the end of 2018, according to government data.
The former vice president also said he’d increase funding for special education programs over the coming decade, as well as allow Pell grants -- a federal subsidy for college students with financial need -- to be used by high school students to take classes at local community colleges to bank credits before graduating.
The decision to begin the rollout of his policy prescriptions with education reflects the issue’s importance to middle-class voters, teachers’ unions that hold considerable sway within the Democratic Party, and young progressive activists, many of whom have struggled with student debt.
Biden’s speech at an event hosted by the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, follows the group’s praise of a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders to spend $1 billion on integration efforts, including magnet schools and busing. Sanders’ plan would freeze federal funding to charter schools and ban for-profit charters. The plan earned plaudits from the NAACP, which has said the specialty schools contribute to segregation and lack transparency.
The Sanders proposal “takes tangible steps toward making the charter school industry accountable to parents and the public,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a May 17 statement.
Sanders also appeared to be underscoring differences with Biden. As a Delaware senator in the mid-1970s, Biden repeatedly spoke out against transporting white children to majority-black schools, and his campaign has continued to argue that busing would not achieve equal opportunity for students.
Former President Barack Obama, with whom Biden served in the White House, was a major proponent of charter schools, saying they provided poor families more options in areas where regular public schools were underperforming. Obama and his education secretaries frequently clashed with unions, which objected to the administration’s efforts to implement common standards and increased standardized testing.
Other Democratic presidential candidates have discussed education proposals, with Senator Kamala Harris, like Biden, focusing largely on boosting funding for K-12 education. The California Democrat plans to hold an education town hall meeting in South Carolina on Tuesday night; she’s expected to highlight a $315 billion proposal that would give the average U.S. public school teacher a $13,500 pay raise.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for massive student loan debt relief, making public colleges tuition-free and abolishing fees, and providing additional funding for historically black colleges and universities. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke has, like Biden, proposed increasing federal funding for public schools and creating free universal pre-K.
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