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Elections have consequences: Education policy under a Biden administration

November 12, 2020

According to news outlets, Joe Biden is expected to be our next president. Even though education wasn’t a focal point in many debates, Biden’s election will mean education policy changes.

For the past four years, federal education policy under the Trump administration has focused on reducing the federal government’s role in education policy, cutting regulations, emphasizing flexibility for states, and championing education choice. 

What does education in the United States look like under a Biden administration?

Aside from a new secretary of education (who is rumored to possibly be a former Utah educator), we can make some educated guesses about how federal education policy may change from a Trump administration to a Biden administration. 

Here are a few things we can anticipate.

More federal tax dollars for public schools

The Trump administration drew attention in education policy for trying to reduce the role of the U.S. Department of Education, increase flexibility, offer waivers to states when necessary, provide block grants, and even cutting the budget early on. 

According to Biden’s campaign website, his administration would focus more on increasing funding in public education. Specifically, these investments would aim to increase teacher pay, provide universal pre-kindergarten, and drive up the number of counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers in public schools. He has also stated a desire to triple Title I funding for low-income students.

Debt-free college? 

During President Trump’s administration, Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos gained attention for Title IX reforms – the aim was to strengthen protections for those accused of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. Then, in response to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education policy took aim at student loan debt. The Trump administration offered some relief, issuing a temporary halt on student loan payments.

A Biden administration is likely to continue that policy and perhaps pursue even more aggressive ones. In fact, Biden and other progressives have long talked about student loan debt, offering a range of policies that would seek to make college debt free. How to accomplish that tall order offers some interesting questions for policymakers.

Centralized approach to the pandemic

The presence of the coronavirus is one variable that will remain consistent for the upcoming year (and perhaps beyond). Individual states responded to the pandemic by shutting their school doors to varying degrees. Concerns about students falling through the cracks, lost learning and even mental health grew as policymakers tried to balance learning with safety. During the summer, Trump urged schools to reopen. 

Some scholars say they expect a Biden administration to offer more federal guidance on how to reopen schools. In fact, Biden has already named a task force to take up this issue for the coming year. 

Each year brings new issues, cultural trends and hot-button topics, so it’s unclear where a new administration could take education policy. But for now, we can anticipate some pretty big shifts.

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