November 17, 2020

Transition 2020 | President-elect Biden’s Education Policy Priorities

Transition 2020 | President-elect Biden’s Education Policy Priorities


The Biden campaign outlined numerous core objectives of a future President Biden for both pre-kindergarten, K-12, and higher education. Those objectives include:

  • Fair wages for teachers
  • Increased funding for Title I schools
  • Investing in teacher mentoring
  • Helping teachers pay off student loans
  • Increasing mental health resources in schools
  • Expanding community schools
  • Improving school infrastructure
  • Combatting gun violence in schools
  • Promoting equal opportunity in education
  • Improving teacher diversity
  • Improving diversity in schools
  • Supporting disabled students
  • Increasing vocational and CTE training
  • Allowing Pell grants for dual enrollment programs
  • Universal pre-kindergarten
  • Providing early childhood development support
  • Expanding home visiting for health and child development specialists

College Affordability

The Biden presidency would pursue various policy changes in the name of college affordability. First, the Biden administration would seek to make two years of community college and training programs tuition free. President Biden would also like to make public colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI’s) tuition-free for families making less than $125,000. Furthermore, Biden has pledged to forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt for borrowers who graduate from two- and four-year public colleges and universities, as well as private HBCU’s and MSI’s, and make less than $125,000. The proposal echoes the College for All Act of 2017, legislation introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) that would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000, and make community college tuition-free for all. President Biden would also seek $70 billion toward these institutions to “advance and expand facilities, educational and technological infrastructure and financial accessibility.” Finally, it is possible President Biden will extend the suspension of federal student-loan payments beyond the December 31 deadline President Trump set in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden’s plan for higher education would allocate $50 billion for workforce training and $8 billion for upgrades to community college infrastructure. The Biden administration would seek to double the maximum Pell grant and cancel a minimum of $10,000 of every American’s student debt. President Biden also wants to change the student loan repayment system. Under the Biden plan, student loan payments and interest for those who make less than $25,000 would be paused, and people who make more than that amount would see their payments decreased to no more than 5% of their discretionary income. After 20 years, the remainder of federal student loans would be forgiven without any tax burden. Finally, participants in the public service loan forgiveness program would be eligible for additional loan forgiveness, including $10,000 per year of forgiveness for up to five years.

Regulatory Action/Executive Orders

As the Senate will likely remain in the hands of a Republican majority, legislative action on education policy priorities for President Biden will be difficult to achieve. Instead, the Biden administration will use executive action to try and achieve its priorities, including to rollback many of the education-related regulations and executive actions taken under the Trump administration. For example, Biden has promised to reverse Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ rule intended to strengthen protections for students accused of sexual assault on college campuses. Biden would also seek limit for-profit K-12 institutions, and increase regulation of for-profit institutions of higher education. For example, the Biden administration will likely work to reinstate gainful employment and borrower defense to repayment through the regulatory process. Finally, Trump-era immigration actions that are unpopular in the education community will likely be rescinded.

The Biden Cabinet

President Biden will select new staff to run the Department of Education, led by a new Secretary of Education to replace Betsy DeVos. Joe Biden has promised a Department of Education under his administration would be more “educator-oriented.” A variety of names have been proposed as options for a new Secretary of Education, including current legislators Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Obama-era Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., now the president and CEO of the Education Trust, and Jim Shelton, former Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education under President Obama. Advising these decisions, Biden’s policy team on his campaign included widely known figures like Lilly Garcia, president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, along with lesser known policy analysts such as Stef Feldman, Grace Landrieu, and Carmel Martin, who have held positions at the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, the Nevada State Democratic Party, and the Center for American Progress, respectively. Finally, President Biden’s stance on education will inevitably be influenced by the future First Lady Jill Biden, who has worked as an educator for more than 30 years.

Congressional Education Policy Priorities

Senate Republican Majority

This election, Republicans will likely be successful in retaining their hold on the Senate. Possible candidates to replace retiring Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee include Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Senator Burr is the highest-ranking republican on HELP, and therefore the next in line for the chairmanship, but he is currently being investigated for possible insider trading, which motivated his decision to step down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year.

Senator Burr favors education policies that allow states and local educational agencies flexibility in administering their schools, rather than the federal government setting universal requirements such as Common Core and No Child Left Behind. He has also supported legislation targeting student loan debt and child care affordability and has voted against proposals to allocate federal funding for private school tuition. Senator Rand Paul, the next highest ranking republican on the HELP Committee, has made comments in the past related to dissolving the Department of Education, calling it “an overreach of constitutional authority by the federal government.” He also clashed with public health leaders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as he was a strong advocate of schools reopening for in-person instruction. Senator Paul is also in favor of limiting federal mandates on private schools and homeschooling. Similar to Senator Burr, he is also supportive of increasing local control over education. Finally, it is likely the HELP Committee, no matter the chair, will prioritize a reauthorization to the Higher Education Act (HEA), a goal that alluded Chairman Alexander. However, a reauthorization to HEA will face similar hurdles as in past Congress’s, exacerbated by a new chair who will need to negotiate with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA).

Senate Democratic Majority

In the event that the Democratic party takes over as the majority party in the Senate, current Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) is primed to take over as Chair of the HELP Committee. A former preschool teacher, Senator Murray focuses much of her education policy on early education and K-12. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she sponsored legislation on childcare and supported additional funding for K-12 schools. Senator Murray has also taken an interest in for-profit colleges and borrow defense to repayment policies, asking Secretary DeVos to take more action on these universities and criticizing her for “skirting her legal responsibilities to protect students and borrowers.” She has pressed Secretary DeVos on this issue in hearings and has specifically requested information on approved borrower applications from the Department of Education to later be publicly released. In higher education, a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate would make it much more likely that the Congress would pass and President Biden would sign an HEA reauthorization bill. However, Senator Murray also holds a high-ranking position on the Appropriations Committee, and could ascend to Vice Chair if current Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) turns his energy to the Senate Judiciary Committee.



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