Don’t look for much impact on K-12 education when the new administration is ushered in. Why? First and foremost, public education is a state and local function. There is no mention of education in the U.S. Constitution nor any of the amendments pursuant. It was not until 1965 that there was any comprehensive federal education legislation. And despite an expansion of federal intervention in education over the last half-century, their role in K-12 education continues to take a way-back seat to the states. In terms of funding in Kansas, the federal government’s share hovers in the neighborhood of 7-to-8%. Almost all of that amount is targeted to specific programs like Title I (for low-income schools), the school lunch program and special education.
What has President-elect Biden proposed that would be different from what transpired under President Trump? According to the Biden education plan, it should come as no surprise that a Biden Department of Education will be institution first, student second. The first two points of his education platform state:
- Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
- Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.
Translated: get more money to the institutions and those who work there.
Where will the money come from? Again, according to his education platform, “Biden will triple funding for Title I, the federal program funding schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families, and require districts to use these funds to offer educators competitive salaries and make other critical investments prior to directing the funds to other purposes.”
Fortunately, there are significant hurdles from making that a reality. First of all, Title I funding is in statute and would require a change in the law to make any adjustments to the dollar amount. Unless the Democrats wrest control of the Senate – which will be determined in the upcoming Georgia run-offs – the idea of tripling Title I funding, in political vernacular, is “dead on arrival.” Secondly, even if more money is made available, the feds do not control how the money is spent (especially in Kansas). The feds would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time requiring school districts to use the money to increase the salaries of all teachers. And what about the salaries of teachers who toil in non-Title I schools? Where would that money come from? According to KSDE data, in 2019-20, just under half of Kansas schools are Title I schools.
This idea of aiming at increased spending (or as Biden puts it: “investing”) is nothing if not predictable because (a) the left believes the answer to any problem is more government money and (b) the incoming first lady is a teacher and member of the NEA.
Here are some other changes Biden calls for:
- A doubling of the “number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in our schools so our kids get the mental health care they need.”
- An expansion of what he calls “community schools” in which the school building is a community hub. Biden calls for an increase in providing “wraparound support” for an additional 300,000 students and their families.
- “Make the schools safer” through “defeat(ing) the National Rifle Association” by passing “rational gun laws.”
- Support for universal pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds. No mention of where the money will come from other than he “will work with states” to make it happen.
One of the planks of the Biden plan appears to back the idea of school choice at first blush. It states:
- Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.
That sounds like school choice, right? Au, contraire. Here are the particulars of that policy stance:
- Invest in our schools to eliminate the funding gap between white and non-white districts, and rich and poor districts.
- Improve teacher diversity.
- Build the best, most innovative schools in the country in low-income communities and communities of color.
- Reinstate the Obama-Biden Administration’s actions to diversify our schools.
- Make sure children with disabilities have the support to succeed.
Not a mention of allowing parents to choose their children’s educational path to be found. Biden clearly believes the answer to those trapped in failing schools is to give those schools more money. The flaw in that approach is that it has been revealed time and time again that increased spending does not improve student outcomes/achievement. KPI has shown that this is especially true in Kansas.
All that aside, the good news is don’t expect some comprehensive federal intervention into education like Bush 43’s No Child Left Behind or Obama’s ill-fated Race to the Top which led to the Common Core disaster. Likely the most noteworthy change will be symbolic. Biden has pledged that the new Secretary of Education will be “a teacher,” which will be in contrast to the current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Fortunately for those who want the feds to keep their paws off K-12 education, the education spotlight at the federal level has been shining on two higher education issues: free college and forgiveness of student loan debt. It is unlikely either of those will become a reality.
Under President Trump, there was not much change in the federal role in K-12 education. The same will likely hold true under President Biden.