After a dizzyingly challenging year for educators, 2021 will begin on a better note as President-elect Joe Biden’s education priorities begin to drive education policy in America. His plan is informed by professionals with actual classroom teaching experience, first and foremost among them is the incoming first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, a former high school teacher and current community college professor. While, at the time of this writing, Biden had not yet named his secretary of education nominee, he has publicly stated that it will be someone with classroom experience.
The most pressing task on the agenda will be working with Congress on coronavirus-related relief for schools, including critical funding for health and safety measures. The administration would be wise to revise and clarify guidance for schools regarding COVID-19, strengthening the safety protections for students and staff and outlining enforcement mechanisms for those districts that fail to comply.
Biden’s plan also addresses everyday
educational needs and proposes much-needed support. First, the president-elect plans to triple Title I funding and earmark some of those funds specifically to increase teacher pay, which is significantly lower than other professions that require comparable education and experience. Title I funding goes to low-income districts. Another administration priority is living up to the federal obligation to fully fund, within 10 years, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Further, Biden will seek funding to construct, renovate and modernize public school buildings.
The Biden education plan focuses on enhancing mental health resources for students, including drastically increasing the ranks of school psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers in order to double the number of health professionals currently employed in schools.
Additionally, the administration will seek to diversify the pool of public school educators by recruiting people of color to the profession. Biden also intends to reinstitute school desegregation strategies that were in place during the Obama administration.
As for higher education, improving affordability is a
major theme. Among the concerns Biden hopes to address is fixing the existing Public Service Loan
Forgiveness Program. Further, new loan forgiveness programs are planned that would forgive $10,000 of student loan debt for every year of national or community service for up to five years. He has also expressed his support for tuition-free public colleges and universities for students from families whose annual income is below $125,000.
On the other end of the spectrum, Biden’s plan advocates for the institution of public pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Many of the programs will hinge upon the cooperation and control of Congress, which will have to pass legislation and provide funding. As of press time, the fate of Congress is in the hands of Georgia, where run-off elections this month will determine which political party controls the closely divided Senate.
None of this means that we will never disagree with Biden administration. We will always advocate for students and our profession, whoever is in the White House. But President-elect Biden has shown that he respects educators and is committed to ensuring we have a seat at the table. There is a lot to look forward to as his administration’s education plan is put into action. After four years of hostility and attacks, educators are ready to welcome an administration that understands we are allies and advocates in the work of building up our public schools and strengthening our democracy.