Biden is president-elect: What could it mean for K-12?

Dive Brief:

  • After a contentious, close race, Democrat Joe Biden, who was vice president during the Obama administration, is expected to win the 2020 presidential election. During the campaign, Biden outlined an education policy platform that has a number of possible implications for K-12 schools, including increased teacher pay, stricter Title IX rules, more Title I funding, additional coronavirus response and more. 
  • Biden, whose wife is a college professor and a former public school teacher, has vowed to select an education secretary with a background in public education, something Secretary Betsy DeVos has been criticized for lacking. 
  • The presidential election results are still being contested in the courts and ballots continue to be counted in some states. Biden’s victory is not official until the Electoral College vote in December.

Dive Insight:

Both Biden and his pick for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, have criticized the Trump administration’s handling of school reopenings following coronavirus-related building closures in spring. 

Biden’s coronavirus response plan includes reopening schools and child care programs as the “the single most important step” to reopening the economy. As part of the next emergency package from Congress, he said eh would push for $200 billion in education funding.

However, as opposed to President Donald Trump’s and DeVos’ push to reopen school buildings nationwide, Biden said he believes these decisions should be made on a local level in concert with national guidelines around coronavirus infection rates necessary to safely resume, or delay, in-person instruction.

The president-elect said he would also amp up funds for Title I to cover personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation equipment, adjusted school schedules, reduced class sizes and infrastructure needed for distance learning. He also proposed tripling Title I funding, from $16.3 billion to $48 billion, “to close that gap between the rich and the poor” and “root out” inequities in the education system. 

A Biden Education Department will also likely differ from Trump’s department on school choice matters. While Trump and DeVos have pushed for Education Freedom Scholarships, Biden is against using public funds to support private schools. He isn’t, however, opposed to charter or magnet schools, but favors greater accountability for the former. 

Biden’s education platform also calls for increasing teacher pay, especially for early childhood educators, as a way to retain high-quality teachers. Harris also supports raising teacher pay. In 2019, Harris announced support for teachers as they prepared for a strike in her hometown of Oakland, California, and said in a tweet “it’s shameful that they don’t earn enough to live in the communities where they teach.” 

Additionally, the president-elect has promised to overturn DeVos’ new Title IX rule, which went into effect in August and required districts to overhaul sexual harassment and assault reporting processes. Harris also urged DeVos in a letter to scrap the Title IX rule, joining other senators in calling it “misguided” and saying it created “confusion for schools about their responsibilities.” However, whether Biden would scrap the K-12 portion of the rule, in addition to the changes it brought to higher ed, is unclear. 

Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, could face challenges from Congress, nevertheless. Control of the Senate has yet to be determined. Republicans keeping their hold on the chamber could complicate Biden’s efforts to pass significant legislation.

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