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Huge education benefits expected under Biden

New York Teacher
President Joe Biden
Miller Photography

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to have a close relationship with teachers unions.

With President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris soon to take office, sweeping changes in U.S. education policy are on the horizon.

Biden has promised to appoint a teacher as the new education secretary to succeed Betsy DeVos, who had no education experience.*

Jill Biden, the next first lady and a former high school teacher, is a community college professor and a member of the National Education Association.

"Teaching isn't just what she does — it's who she is," Joe Biden said in his presidential victory speech on Nov. 7. "For America's educators, this is a great day: You're going to have one of your own in the White House."

In a Nov. 16 speech to the National Education Association as well as the American Federation of Teachers, Jill Biden promised educators that the Biden administration would "make sure that your voices are leading this movement. Educators, this is our moment."

Biden is expected to have a closer relationship with teachers unions than the Trump administration or even President Obama's administration, which included school reformer Arne Duncan as education secretary.

Biden's transition committee for education has been led by Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the California State Board of Education and a highly respected education professor. Four of the committee's 20 members work for national teachers unions.

Some of Biden's most ambitious education plans may be curtailed if Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, but he will be able to roll back the Trump administration's restrictions on students' civil rights on his own.

Here are some specific areas where the education department in a Biden-Harris administration is poised to diverge significantly from the prior administration:

COVID-19

The Trump administration demanded that public schools across the nation reopen, even as the coronavirus was raging in many states. School districts received some stimulus funding in the spring, but nothing since.

Biden has called for at least $88 billion in federal funding to help cash-strapped school districts pay for personal protective equipment, lower class sizes and other expenses associated with operating during the pandemic. The additional funding could also head off massive educator layoffs in 2021. Biden said schools need "clear, consistent, effective national guidelines" for reopening schools. Biden's plan to help schools address COVID-19 calls for "listening to the scientists" and "basic, objective criteria" to guide school systems in reopening decisions.

School funding

Trump repeatedly proposed deep cuts to the federal education budget that Congress rejected.

In his campaign for president, Biden promised to triple Title I funding for schools serving large numbers of low-income students. He also called for doubling the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses and social workers in the nation's schools. Funding universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year olds is another policy goal.

Those initiatives, which would cost billions of dollars, will likely have to take a back seat to the funding needs triggered by the pandemic and will face challenges in Congress if Republicans hold on to their majority in the U.S. Senate.

Charter schools

Both the Obama and Trump administrations supported the growth of charter schools. By contrast, Biden has called for greater scrutiny and accountability for charters.

Biden has called for stricter guidelines for char­ter schools to ac­cess fed­eral funds. He also came out against federal funding for char­ter schools run by for-profit com­pa­nies, which make up about 12% of char­ter schools, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Al­liance for Pub­lic Char­ter Schools.

Civil rights

Biden has vowed to restore Obama-era civil rights guidance that DeVos rescinded.

DeVos revoked guidance that allowed transgender students to choose the school bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity. She also rolled back a federal guideline directing schools not to discipline Black and Latino students at higher rates.

Biden can restore these rules immediately because they were not put through the regulatory process or enacted into law.

The incoming administration has also promised to scrap DeVos-era Title IX rules governing how federally funded schools investigate sexual misconduct. The new rules, which generated an outcry from victim-rights advocates, gave people accused of sexual assault more due-process rights. After the change, victims of sexual assault faced a cross-examination by their alleged abusers, which victim-rights advocates warned would exacerbate the problem of sexual assaults going unreported.

Rescinding the new Title IX rules will likely take longer since the change will require formal regulations or legislative action.

Student debt

Under DeVos, the Education Department loosened oversight of for-profit colleges and became less generous with loan forgiveness for defrauded students, creating a sizable pileup of loan forgiveness claims.

The Biden administration is expected to hold for-profit colleges accountable again and prioritize loan forgiveness for the students they cheated, including some of those whose claims were denied during DeVos' tenure.

On the campaign trail, Biden called for forgiving $10,000 of debt each for the 43 million Americans with federal student loans.

Biden wants to make community college tuition-free for two years and public colleges tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 a year. He also favors doubling Pell grants for low- and moderate-income students.

*Editor's Note: President-elect Biden on Dec. 22 nominated Dr. Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut state education commissioner, to be his education secretary. Cardona has 20 years of experience as a teacher and administrator.

Miguel Cardona

Biden picks Connecticut educator as education secretary

Miguel Cardona, a career educator and the Connecticut state education commissioner, is President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for U.S. education secretary. The nomination on Dec. 22 fulfills Biden's campaign promise to select an educator to lead the U.S. Department of Education. "Miguel Cardona is the right choice," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.