More than a month after he officially announced he would run for president, Joe Biden has finally entered the 2020 Democratic policy wars with his fellow candidates.
On Tuesday, the former vice president and current Democratic front-runner released a wide-ranging education plan, which includes proposals his campaign contends would raise teachers’ pay and offer universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The plan is Biden’s first major proposal of the 2020 presidential campaign, during which time others in the large field of Democrats have released various bold policy plans. On the subject of education alone, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has proposed giving the average teacher a $13,500 raise and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has suggested wiping out student loan debt for the majority of American borrowers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ― who is currently Biden’s closest competition in the polls ― is once again making free public college a central calling card of his presidential campaign, while also proposing a salary floor of $60,000 for teachers, universal free school meals and the tripling of Title I funding, among other ideas.
By comparison, Biden’s education proposal is less ambitious in scope. The central pillar, in fact, is nearly identical to one component of Sanders’ previously released plan: Like Sanders, Biden has proposed a threefold increase in federal funding for the Title I program. With the additional funding, Biden said he would raise teachers’ pay at Title I public schools by an unspecified amount and institute universal pre-kindergarten. (Title I schools have a large percentage of students from low-income families.)
The Biden campaign said it hopes that increase in Title I spending would help reduce the funding gap between overwhelmingly white and predominantly non-white school districts, which has reached an estimated $23 billion.
“Systemic racism is persistent across our institutions today ― including in our schools ― and must be addressed,” the campaign said in a press release. “President Biden will make sure that no child’s education opportunity is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
The campaign put forward a number of other education ideas on Tuesday as well, including reinstating the Obama administration’s Department of Education guidance to legally pursue desegregation and providing grants to school districts for the purpose of diversifying schools.
Additionally, the campaign said Biden hopes to create a program where teachers can make extra money by coaching and mentoring other teachers, increase federal funding for special education, double the number of guidance counselors and health professionals at schools, improve public school buildings through infrastructure legislation, and make it easier for educators to pay off their student loans (when asked, the campaign did not immediately offer specifics as to how).
Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, applauded Biden’s plan in a statement on Tuesday, saying it would “go a long way towards eliminating the persistent achievement gaps and providing opportunity for all students no matter their ZIP code.”
“What is becoming increasingly clear in light of Biden’s and other recent education proposals is that, as the eyes of the nation turn to the 2020 presidential campaign, the country is hungry to elect a president who will not only do what is in the best interest of public education but also ensure that students have the schools they deserve,” García said.
The Biden campaign released the proposal ahead of a Tuesday night town hall with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Houston.