Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has unveiled a broad set of policy goals for education that would have implications for companies doing business in the K-12 market.
The education plan is just one piece of a sweeping, 110-page policy document released by a joint task force composed of staff members of the Biden’s team and the former presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.
It’s being put forward as the nation’s school districts attempt to figure out how they will provide lessons to millions of students after widespread shutdowns of their campuses because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The document is intended to form the basis of the Democratic party’s official 2020 platform.
Among the proposals that would likely shape that education industry, if they became policy: expanded broadband access to promote more equitable distance learning, digitization of all necessary educational materials, and improved access to online learning for English learners.
But the proposal also emphasizes the importance of in-person classes, stating that “there is no sustainable, long-term substitute for high-quality, in-classroom learning.”
The Biden and Sanders teams “believe we must meet this moment by making vital investments that will enable our children and future generations to thrive and achieve their full human potential,” the document says.
The policy document was released as the Trump administration is putting pressure on school districts around the country to resume in-person classes — and threatening to withhold their federal aid if they do not.
The administration’s proposal has drawn major concerns from school officials and others, who say compelling schools to reopen as the coronavirus spikes in many states puts the safety of students, families and school staff at risk.
Biden’s proposal calls for expansion of the federal E-rate program that currently provides wireless access points, data cabling, and network switches to schools at a discount. But it does not call for the E-rate program to be applied to the use of Wi-Fi in students’ homes, which several national Democratic policymakers have advocated for during the pandemic.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees E-rate, has not expanded the program to cover at-home network devices, either. Pai has stated that the federal Communications Act says that schools can use E-rate funds to support connectivity in physical school and library buildings only.
E-rate is a $4 billion federal program overseen by the FCC that gives school districts discounts to pay for improved internet connectivity.
The proposal calls for improving online learning access for English learners by providing additional funding via Title I as well as Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides funding to help English learners attain language proficiency and high levels of academic achievement.
In addition to calling for increased general connectivity, the Biden/Sanders proposal also calls for increased resources to support the implementation of remote after-school activities. Further, the proposal envisions an expanded community school model to help more schools transition to include afterschool programs and expanded learning time.
And the proposal makes a general call for increased funding for after-school and summer programs, teen centers, and tutoring.
Federal funding for after-school programs is currently provided through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides academic enrichment opportunities, particularly for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Education made 54 awards totaling $1.2 billion for the program.
Social-Emotional Learning, and Changes in Testing
The Biden proposal also has an entire section dedicated to learning, specifying intentions to educate children in developing life skills including critical thinking, effective communication, creative thinking, mindfulness, “socio-emotional literacy,” self-management, ethical and moral reasoning, leadership, and judgment and decision-making.
The last two appropriations bills proposed by House Democrats have included pitches for a social-emotional learning program. These bills could provide a basis for any social-emotional learning plan developed by a potential Biden administration in collaboration with congressional Democrats, especially if the party gains control of both chambers.
Here are other key priorities included in the Biden proposal that could have implications for the education industry and ed tech:
- Ending the use of high-stakes standardized tests. High-stakes assessments “unfairly label students,” according to Biden’s campaign. Annual high-stakes testing hasn’t led to enough improvement of student outcomes and can lead to discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, and English language learners, the proposal claims.
- Tripling Title I funding. Title I is currently funded at $15.8 billion. Biden’s proposal would represent a huge increase, which would seem unlikely at the scale he envisions – even during an era when Congress has channeled billions in emergency federal aid to schools. But even so, it reflects the Democratic candidate’s desire to pour money into a core federal program.
- Full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. Upon the enactment of IDEA in 1975, Congress promised to cover 40 percent of the additional cost required to educate students with disabilities when compared to the cost-per-student without disabilities. But Congress has never met that obligation, even as the number of students with disabilities served under IDEA has increased by 25 percent in the last 20 years, according to data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The IDEA state grant program was funded at $12 billion in 2017, and the federal government is covering 14.6 percent of the additional cost to educate students with disabilities.
Photo: Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporters as he visits his childhood home in Scranton, Pa., on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Matt Slocum/AP)