News Writer Michael Trotter Comas analyses what the Biden presidency means for US education

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Biden’s recent victory in Georgia officially confirms his upcoming presidency. He is set to take office at noon on 20th January 2021 as Trump’s own efforts to hang onto the oval office fall apart. A Democratic president would mean some big changes to the White House, and to the American education system.

Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham (UoB) qualified Biden’s education program as ‘pretty bold’ as it would ‘bolster funding for state school programs.’

This is funding the Trump administration has not been willing to give. On average, the government underfunds schools by $46 billion a year according to Biden’s program. The most recent example being Trump’s campaign for schools to reopen amid the ongoing pandemic without any additional financial support. In his effort, Trump went as far as threatening to cut federal aid. This is despite the School Superintendents Association and the Association of Educational Services estimating they need at least $200 billion in emergency funding for K-12 schools (from kindergarten to 12th grade) to ensure student safety. 

‘The White House and Mitch McConnell have been dragging their feet on a coronavirus relief bill’ said Professor Lucas.

Biden has already set up a COVID-19 taskforce before stepping into office. He further promised federal relief funding for schools to address the effects of the pandemic. As Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, a member of the taskforce, states in a piece for the New York Times, ‘being safe is not free.’ 

An estimated 1.89 million education jobs could be lost over the next three years if the economic damage done by the pandemic goes unchecked. A significant relief package could be the Biden administration’s biggest contribution to state schools over the course of his first year in office. The democratic candidate’s program, however, indicates he intends to do much more than that for state education in America. 

Professor Lucas says ‘the Biden administration plans to go back to, and beyond what was there pre-Trump.’

The Biden administration plans to go back to, and beyond what was there pre-Trump

Biden has pledged to triple Title I funding, a federal program funding K-12 schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. This plan would see a reduction of the estimated $23 billion gap between high-income and low-income schooling districts. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that ‘a 10% increase in per-pupil spending each year for all twelve years of public-school leads to 0.27 more completed years of education, 7.25% higher wages, and a 3.67 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty.’

‘You’ve also got the promise to support teachers in terms of the way they see the delivery of instruction in the classroom’ said Professor Lucas. 

Part of the extra funding would be used to implement competitive teacher salaries in an effort to show support to the teaching community and maximise student learning. On average 21.4% less than workers with a similar education and experience. 

On the same note, the Biden administration intends to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programme and allow for $10,000 of student debt relief for every year of national or community service, for up to five years. This motion would alleviate some of the debt public teachers take on. 

If anything, the fact the future first lady, Jill Biden, has a thirty-year educational career under her belt is hope for many educators and parents across the nation. 

On higher education, a Biden administration would see debt cancellation and free tuition for individuals and families earning less than $25,000 a year. The idea being borrowed from Senator Sanders’ campaign offers some hope for low-income families across America. Six out of ten jobs now require education beyond high school. There are further plans to double Pell Grant funding and expand their implementation in an attempt to make all of the opportunities on the table available to low-income students. These changes would represent a significant shift in both the American lower and higher education systems. This is especially true when considering the private direction education has been taking under the Trump administration. 

‘The problem is when you privilege the for-profit sector and you undermine the public sector. That is the problem Trump and DeVos are bringing in,’ stated Professor Lucas.

There is hope that a Biden administration might revive and go further on aspects such as the ‘borrower defense to repayment’ policy, allowing the cancellation of debt in the case of a student having been defrauded by their college. An example being the fraud scheme led by the Corinthian Colleges in California.

Betsy DeVos, the current Education Secretary, was instrumental in the deregulation of American education by pushing against Obama/Biden regulations and civil rights guidance. That includes ‘guidance on transgender students, on ensuring diversity in colleges and schools, and on the handling of discipline, especially in regard to students of colour’ said Professor Lucas. 

A famous example of this are DeVos’ changes to Title IX, a policy governing the handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases on school grounds. DeVos pushed for changes offering more protection to the accused. Then-University of California President, Janet Napolitano, came out arguing the modifications to Title IX weakened efforts to reduce campus assaults.

‘DeVos made herself an enemy of the state schooling system’, said Professor Scott.

Trump’s lack of state school funding has been an ongoing narrative since he first took office. His 2018 fiscal year proposal already demanded a 13.5% reduction in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, while also cutting $1.2 billion in summer programs, as well as before and after school programs. As Ross Barkan puts it in his Guardian article, Trump’s vision for American education is ‘to unshackle the rich and let them turn a profit at the expense of working-class students desperate to better themselves.’

The Trump administration’s role in privatising education only seems to become more significant when considering DeVos’ 2017 ethics review. The review identified DeVos as having one-hundred-and-two conflicts of interest as Education Secretary back in 2017. 

‘Her whole background is not as a teacher or administrator but as a money-maker, making money out of this sector’ stated Professor Lucas. 

A Biden administration therefore seems like a go-to solution for state-school believers. 

‘These plans, they look nothing like what [Biden] advocated in 2008, or really nothing like what he’s advocated for most of his career’ Jason Delisle of the American Enterprise Institute told NPR. ‘How hard is he going to fight for this?’

Other than the ongoing pandemic, the Senate represents the Biden administration’s next biggest challenge as the Georgia runoff elections kick off on December 1st. A Republican majority could heavily dampen the Democrat’s plans for change. Combined, his plans for student debt relief and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs are estimated to cost over two trillion dollars.  

‘Yet, when you’re talking about allocations of money that have already been authorised to a department, you can choose to re-allocate within existing department funding without Senate approval’ assures Professor Lucas. 

‘There is a lot of lee-way for action and for setting a different tone.’

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