Biden’s education platform boosts funding for low-income districts

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign unveiled a set of education policy proposals Tuesday that would increase funding for schools in low-income areas, help teachers pay off student debt and double the number of health professionals working in schools.

Biden’s campaign released his education platform just before Biden and his wife, Jill Biden — a longtime high school and community college teacher who has a doctorate degree in education leadership — began a town hall hosted by the American Federation of Teachers in Houston.

“Vice President Joe Biden was our north star in the last administration,” federation President Randi Weingarten said as she introduced him. While teachers’ unions often fought President Barack Obama’s education policies, she said, “we had a go-to guy who always listened to us.”

The plan comes at the start of a stretch of Biden’s candidacy in which he and his aides have said he’ll roll out policy proposals. He has also said he will soon offer a detailed approach to combating climate change.

Biden argued Tuesday that “the bulk of” his education proposals can become law even if Republicans maintain control of the Senate after the 2020 elections.

A fact sheet provided by the campaign calls for the tripling of federal Title I funding for schools that serve low-income areas — closing what his campaign called a $23 billion funding gap between majority white and nonwhite school districts. That, his campaign said, would allow schools to increase teacher salaries.

The plan would prioritize competitive pay for teachers, access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and districts offering rigorous coursework. After those, Biden’s plan would leave it to school districts to identify their biggest needs to address with the remaining funding bump.

The fact sheet doesn’t detail the cost of Biden’s proposal, but he said in Houston that Title I funding would increase from $15 billion to $45 billion annually under his plan.

Biden’s plan also calls for the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program — which discharges federal student loan debt after 10 years of payments — to be “fixed” and “simplified” so that it “actually helps teachers.”

Biden said Tuesday that teachers should have their student loans “basically paid off.”

Recounting his sons graduating from law school with more than $100,000 in student loan debt each, Biden said that “there has to be a means by which (teachers) get to total debt forgiveness.”

His plan also calls for new funding to help teachers earn additional certifications in high-demand areas like special education and bilingual education, as well as funding for mentorship programs.

Biden’s campaign did not offer details on how much the plan would cost overall or how he proposed to pay for it.

Biden’s plan also aims to address what his campaign says is a massive shortage of health professionals — psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses and social workers — in schools by doubling the number of those employees. It does not explain the mechanisms through which he would do so. That would cost $2.5 billion per year, Biden said in Houston.

The plan identifies other priorities for increased funding, including:

increasing efforts to recruit minority teachers grants to help school districts diversify their schools building new school buildings and improving existing ones expanding “community schools” that connect parents with doctors and other support their children need vocational education allowing Pell grants to be used for dual-enrollment programs that allow high school students to take community college classes launching a new competitive program that would reward innovative approaches to high school education in low-income areas dramatically increasing funding for schools to support children with disabilities.

Biden argued in Houston for “free community college for every single person,” saying the $6 billion price tag would increase the United States’ gross domestic product and reduce spending on four-year college.

His plan does not address charter schools. But he said at the town hall that for-profit charters should not receive any federal funding because they “siphon off money from our public schools, which are already in trouble.”

In the plan, Biden pledges to “defeat the National Rifle Association” and enact gun control measures.

“In the months ahead, he will release additional proposals to address the gun violence epidemic in our country,” the plan says.

The rollout came in the same city one of Biden’s rivals, California Sen. Kamala Harris, unveiled a 10-year, $315 billion plan she said would increase the average teacher’s salary by $13,500 per year.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.