When it comes to education policy, Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have some common priorities.
At the K-12 level, they both want to raise teacher pay and desegregate schools. When it comes to higher education, both candidates now agree public college tuition should be free and have pledged to cancel student loan debt.
They also have some differences.
Sanders’ plan focuses on equitable funding including offering free school meals to all students and rethinking funding schools through property taxes. Biden’s plan focuses on strengthening college and career prep programs, diversifying the teacher workforce and offering free early education to 3- and 4-year-olds. The National Association of Educators (NEA) recently endorsed Biden.
Here are some key points:
Triple Title I Funding
Both candidates pledge to triple Title I funding. Title I is a federal program that provides money to schools that serve students in poverty. This is something a president could propose in the budget, but it needs congressional approval. Georgia’s Title I allocation has decreased in recent years even though the percentage of children in poverty hasn’t.
Raising Teacher Pay
Sanders promises to raise teacher pay to no lower than $60,000 a year. Biden also promises to raise teacher pay and pledges to use the increase in Title I funding to ensure teachers’ salaries are “competitive.”
These are ambitious promises because the federal government doesn’t pay teachers. In Georgia, the state pays the bulk of teachers’ salaries and local districts supplement that. To implement raises from the federal level, officials would have to work closely with states to figure out how the money would work. Would it be a lump sum? In Georgia’s case, would it be factored into the state’s school funding formula? Federal officials would also need to budget for retirement costs. Those details are not in either candidate’s plans.
Desegregating Public Schools
Sanders pledges to increase federal funding to build on the Strength in Diversity Act to better integrate schools. His plan also includes executing and enforcing desegregation orders through the federal courts and funding school transportation so that schools can fully integrate.
Similarly, Biden says he’ll reinstate the Obama administration guidance that supported schools in legally pursuing desegregation strategies. He says he’ll provide grants to school districts to create plans and implement strategies to diversify their schools.
Sanders wants to ban for-profit charter schools and place a moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion until a national audit has been completed. He wants these schools, which are public but often run by private or nonprofit operators, to be held accountable in the same ways traditional public schools are.
This isn’t likely to be a popular or welcome idea in Georgia, which is a local control state. The idea behind charter schools is that they are granted more flexibility than traditional public schools and don’t have to follow the same regulations.
Sanders also wants to expand summer learning and after-school programs to provide relief for parents and extra support for students. He says he’ll implement universal free meals at school and pledges to invest in infrastructure.
Biden’s plan includes a focus on career tech education for high school students. He says he would invest in school vocational training and partnerships between schools, businesses and community colleges. These kinds of programs have been successful in Georgia. Students in the state’s Career Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program have a graduation rate of 96%, compared to the overall rate of 82%.
Biden also pledges to make preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds free. Georgia has free universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds. It serves about 60% of the state’s eligible children. Biden says he’ll work with states to launch these programs.
The former vice president also says he would focus on mental health in schools by doubling the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers and other health professionals.
Biden recently announced he’s adopting Sanders’ and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s plans to make public college tuition free and wipe out student loan debt. Sanders also wants to expand Pell Grants to low-income students to cover other costs, such as housing, books and supplies.
Both campaigns pledge to increase funding to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Sanders says he’ll provide $1.3 billion to these schools to help reduce tuition and fees. Biden says he would invest $18 billion. Biden also says his administration would invest $10 billion to create new research centers at HBCUs and MSIs.
Now that Biden has embraced Sanders’ tuition and loan debt plans, there aren’t many differences between the two candidates’ plans for higher education. Biden’s plan is a little more detailed. He wants to invest in community colleges, making tuition at those schools free also. He wants to crack down on for-profit colleges that loan money to students at high interest rates. He also wants to provide more funds to help veterans return to and finish college.