Where the Democratic Candidates Stand on Education

Compiled by Beth Rowen

With healthcare, the fallout from the impeachment trial, and national security dominating the Democratic debates, the education platforms of presidential hopefuls have received little attention. Here are highlights of what each of the major Democratic candidates have proposed in the field of education.

Joe Biden
Two-term vice president and six-term U.S. senator from Delaware

joe biden stance on education

K-12 Education

  • Increase teacher salaries and offer preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income districts by tripling the funding of Title 1 schools
  • Work with states to provide universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds.
  • Provide funding for teachers to serve as mentors or coaches to other teachers. Funding will also be available to teachers who pursue certification in specialized areas, such as special education or English language learning.
  • Expand and improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to help teachers pay off their student loans.
  • Double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools.
  • Offer support, such as after-school care, health and social services, and adult education courses, to students and their families in schools.
  • Provide federal funds to improve the infrastructure of schools, eliminate health risks in schools, and make them energy efficient and outfitted with cutting-edge technology. Low-income areas and communities of color will be among the first participants in the program.
  • Improve the safety of schools by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • Increase teacher diversity by supporting programs that recruit teachers of color.
  • Diversify schools by reinstating the U.S. Department of Education guidance that helps schools use legal means to desegregate their population.
  • Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Create programs to help schools develop high-quality vocational programs for middle and high school students.

Higher Education

  • Free two-year community college or a high-quality two-year training program. 
  • Help community colleges enact reforms that increase retention and graduation rates.
  • Establish $8 billion program to help community colleges upgrade their technology and facilities.
  • Invest $50 billion in workforce training programs.
  • Double the maximum value of Pell grants, making them available to a wider pool of middle-class Americans.
  • Forgive federal student loans for people making $25,000 or less and cap annual federal student loan payments to 5% of discretionary income.
  • Establish a new student loan forgiveness program that allocates $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service for up to five years.
  • End predatory practices of for-profit colleges.
  • Invest in minority serving institutions (MSIs) to improve their infrastructure and make them more accessible and affordable to students.

Source: Joe Biden’s campaign website.

Michael Bloomberg
Former mayor of New York City

Michael Bloomberg stance on education

K–12 Education

Bloomberg’s campaign site focuses less on his plan for K–12 education as president and more on his record as mayor of New York. His site states that if elected, Bloomberg will make it a priority to increase student achievement, college preparedness, and career readiness.

Highlights of Bloomberg’s achievements in education as mayor of New York:

  • Implemented reform policies that led to a 42% increase in graduation rates in New York City public schools. African-American and Hispanic students saw the largest rate increases.
  • Doubled the education budget and gave teachers a 43% raise.
  • Provided college free counseling to 66,000 high-achieving, lower-income high school students.
  • Created 126,000 classroom seats and opened 654 schools.
  • Improved school quality, propelling 22 elementary or middle schools into the top 25 schools in the state by the end of his tenure. When he took office, none of the city’s schools ranked in the top 25. 

Higher Eductation

  • Double the maximum size of Pell grants.
  • Reduce the cap on student-loan payments by 50% and cancel loans tax-free after 20 years.
  • Make two-year public college tuition-free for all students. For students who are in the lowest 25% income bracket, costs for food, books, and transportation will also be covered.
  • Make four-year public college tuition-free for students who are in the lowest 25% income bracket. Costs for food, books, and transportation will also be covered for these students.
  • Increase federal funding for colleges and universities that agree to implement strategies to increase graduation rates, limit tuition increases, and boost the enrollment of students receiving Pell grants. triple direct
  • Triple federal Title III funding to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Increase graduation rates at two- and four-year colleges by establishing advising programs and financial support to students at risk for dropping out.
  • Invest in adult-education and career-training programs so adults have better job prospects.
  • Encourage institutions to re-enroll adults who attended college but didn’t graduate.

Source: Mike Bloomberg’s campaign website.

Bernie Sanders
Three-term U.S. senator from Vermont

Bernie Sanders education platform

K–12 Education

  • Triple Title 1 funding to ensure at-risk schools get the funding they need and end funding penalties for schools that attempt to desegregate.
  • Execute and enforce desegregation orders and appoint federal judges who will enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act in school systems.
  • Address disciplinary practices in schools that disproportionately affect black and brown children.
  • Establish a dedicated fund to create and expand teacher-training programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and tribal colleges and universities to increase educator diversity.
  • Increase funding for public magnet schools to $1 billion annually to help integrate schools.
  • Increase access to English as a Second Language instruction.
  • Ban the use of public funds to create for-profit charter schools.
  • Establish a national per-pupil spending minimum.
  • Eliminate barriers to college-entrance exams by mandating that states cover fees for the ACT, SAT, and other college preparatory exams for all students.
  • Provide $5 billion annually for career and technical education to give our students the skills they need to thrive once they graduate.
  • Ensure schools in rural communities, indigenous communities, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories receive equitable funding.
  • Set a starting salary for teachers at $60,000, expand collective bargaining rights and teacher tenure, and reimburse teachers for the out-of-pocket expenses for classroom materials.
  • Provide year-round, free universal school meals and encourage the use of locally sourced food.
  • Make schools safe and inclusive by protecting the rights of all students from harassment, discrimination, and violence and enacting comprehensive gun-violence prevention laws.
  • Spend $5 billion annually to expand access to summer- and after-school programs, teen centers and tutoring.
  • Pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act into law to protect the rights of LGBTQ students.
  • Protect students from harassment, discrimination, and violence in educational institutions by protecting and enforcing Title IX.
  • Enact comprehensive gun violence prevention laws to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country and in our schools.
  • Ensure that immigrant children and their parents are free from harassment and surveillance at school, regardless of their immigration status.

Higher Education

  • Make two- and four-year public colleges and trade schools tuition- and debt-free. 
  • Cancel all student loan debt and place a cap on student loan interest rates at 1.88%.
  • Invest $1.3 billion annually in private, non-profit historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Make all public and private HBCUs, tribal colleges, and many MSIs tuition-free.
  • Invest $10 billion to create and expand HBCU medical, dental, and teacher-training graduate programs. 
  • End equity gaps in higher education. Ensure students are able to cover non-tuition costs of attending school by expanding Pell Grants to cover non-tuition and fee costs, such as books and transportation, and increase funding for work-study programs.

Education and Disabilities

  • Ensure that the federal government provides at least 50% of funding for special education.
  • Guarantee children with disabilities an equal right to high-quality education by enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Increase educational opportunities for people with disabilities, by expanding career- and technical-education opportunities to prepare students for community employment.
  • Increase the number of special education teachers, fund training of these teachers and increase their salaries.

Elizabeth Warren
Two-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts

K–12 Education

  • Nominate a Secretary of Education who has been a public school teacher.
  • Quadruple Title 1 funding—an additional $450 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as well as add $20 billion a year to IDEA grants.
  • Upgrade aging school infrastructure with $50 billion in funds.
  • Fully fund the Bureau of Indian Education schools.
  • Invest $100 billion over ten years in “Excellence Grants” to public schools for state-of-the art labs, after-school arts programs, school-based student mentoring programs, sustainable schools, etc.
  • Transform 25,000 public schools to community schools by 2030.
  • Integrate schools by strengthening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in any program or activity that receives federal funding.
  • Restore regulations and guidelines outlined by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that were suspended by the Trump administration.
  • Ensure English Language Learners have access to quality coursework, teachers, and special education services and are integrated with the rest of the student body, while maintaining their home language. 
  • Scrutinize attempts by schools to break away from their districts and create their own districts. The “breakaway” districts are often wealthier and whiter than their former districts. 
  • Strictly enforce the right of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students.
  • Cancel student lunch debt and increase federal funding for free school breakfast and lunch for all students.
  • Provide families free, high-quality universal pre-K.
  • End the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor in closing a school, firing a teacher, or making any other high-stakes decisions.
  • End zero-tolerance discipline policies and encourage schools to adopt discipline policies that draw students in rather than pushing them out.
  • Establish more school-based health centers by establishing a $25 billion capital fund.
  •  Increase salaries and support for all public school educators.
  •  Enact the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which allows public employees, like teachers, to organize and bargain collectively in each state.
  • Ban for-profit charter schools.
  • Ensure existing charter schools are subject to at least the same level of transparency and accountability as traditional public schools.
  • End federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.
  • Increase funding for continuing education and professional development opportunities to all school staff.

Higher Education

  • Make public two-year, four-year, and technical colleges tuition-free for all students.
  • Cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000.
  • Substantially cancel the debt of every person with household income between $100,000 and $250,000.
  • Cancel the student loan debt of most teachers. 
  • Invest at least $50 billion in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Ban for-profit colleges from receiving any federal funding.

Source: Elizabeth Warren’s campaign website.

Former Candidates

Pete Buttigieg
Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana

Pete Buttigieg stance on education

K-12 Education

  • Invest $700 to provide families affordable, universal full-day childcare and pre-K education for all children from infancy to age 5.
  • Create more than one million child development jobs by investing $2 billion a year in workforce-development funding for training, certification, and wage increases. 
  • Narrow academic opportunity gaps between students in high-income and low-income districts by creating a $10 billion equity fund.
  • Triple funding for Title 1 schools to move toward an equitable public education system and eliminate the wage gap for Title I teachers.
  • Create a $500 million fund to encourage and support community-led racial and economic school integration.
  • Establish the Education Access Corps to prepare and retain future educators to teach in Title I schools. The program would coordinate with states to identify a select group of high-quality, multi-year collegiate teacher preparation programs to educate future teachers, including programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Double the proportion of new teachers and school leaders of color in 10 years.
  • Support strong unions for educators and staff and raise wages for early childhood educators.
  • Dramatically reduce discipline disparities in schools.
  • End corporal punishment, restraint, and seclusion in schools.
  • Expand mental health services in schools for students and teachers.
  • Give every child access to after-school programs and summer learning opportunities, including in art, sports, and STEM.
  • Eliminate for-profit charter schools.  
  • Support LGBTQ+ students and educators by building a culture of inclusion in the Department of Education.

Higher Education

  • Provide free public tuition free for families earning up to $100,000 and substantial tuition subsidies for students from families earning up to $150,000.
  • Increase the size of Pell grants by $1,000 by injecting $120 billion into the program.
  • Invest $50 billion in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges, and minority serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Create $50 billion Community College Fund to expand academic and career counseling programs.
  • Establish a $2 billion fund to expand the free and reduced-price lunch program that provides food vouchers to students in community colleges.
  • Help students who are falling behind on student loans by automatically enrolling them in income-driven repayment plans.
  • Cancel student debt for students who attended predatory for-profit schools.
  • Incrementally cancel debt of workers in government service or non-profit organizations.

Education and Disabilities

  • Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Make inclusive education a national expectation and ensure that 85% of students with intellectual and multiple disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the day by the end of the 2025 school year. 
  • Ensure services for students with disabilities extend beyond high school. 
  • Strengthen Title IX protections and support students with disabilities who face sexual assault in college.

Source: Pete Buttigieg’s campaign website.

Amy Klobuchar
Three-term U.S. senator from Minnesota

K-12 Education

  • Create a Progress Partnerships program in which states would receive matching federal funds if they agree to:
    • Increase salaries of K–12 teachers.
    • Revamp curriculum to better prepare students for post-secondary options and the workforce.
    • Develop a plan to equitably distribute federal funds to improve school infrastructure.
    • Submit a plan that will align school services with the needs of working families, such as affordable after-school programs.
    • Review funding equity so all students have access to a quality education.
  • Reduce the racial disparity in the discipline of students.
  • Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Prevent the increase in funding of school vouchers
  • Reinstate protections for the LGBTQ community that were suspended under the Trump administration

Higher Education

  • Allow college graduates to refinance college loans at a lower interest rate.
  • Cap student loan interest rates.
  • Expand Pell grants to help students pay for college.
  • Make community college free for students.

Source: Amy Klobuchar’s campaign website

Tom Steyer
Business executive, environmentalist, and philanthropist, and former CEO of Farallon Capital Management

K–12 Education

  • Double federal funding of K–12 education with a focus on closing the quality gap between affluent and low-income districts.
  • Work with states to increase teacher salaries by using federal funds to match the amount states spend on increasing salaries at a 2-to-1 ratio.
  • Increase Title II spending to provide teachers quality professional development.
  • Increase the number of teachers of color through training programs and expand TEACH Grants.
  • Provide free, universal pre-K to all 3- and 4-year-olds and expand the Head Start program for children under age 3.
  • Double the number of school nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and community resource coordinators in public schools to help students struggling with mental health issues. 
  • Triple Title 1 funding.
  • Assist districts with desegregation efforts.
  • Invest $100 billion over 10 years to improve school infrastructure.
  • Establish a presidential task force on graduation rates.
  • Provide a free tutor to every student performing below grade level.
  • Give low- and middle-income students access to free or low-cost SAT and ACT prep courses, assistance with filling out financial aid forms, and career counselors.
  • Expand apprenticeship and workforce credentialing programs for students who wish to pursue vocational careers.
  • Revamp civic education to engage students and encourage them to be active in the political system.

Higher Education

  •  Forgive student loans of teachers after 10 years of service.
  • Establish a grant program that funds teacher prep programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs).

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