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What Does the 2020 Election Mean for Education Funding?

The 2020 election is finally upon us. There is a  chance we might know the outcome of the election tonight but with so many absentee and mail-in ballots it might take days and weeks — even a month — for the results to be finalized. It’s already looking like voting numbers will be higher than ever seen in recent years so there will be a lot of scrutiny on close counts and efforts to make sure all votes are counted. No matter the time it takes for the final tally, though, President Donald Trump will take a second inaugural address or Vice President Joe Biden will take his first inaugural address on January 20, 2021. And either way, there will be an impact on education for at least the next four years and likely beyond. Beyond wider differences in policy and priorities the candidates also have to wrestle with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its implications for schools. So let’s break them down, in order to better understand what might be coming along.

President Donald Trump and K-12 Education

The best insight for what may come from the Republican Candidate, President Trump, in the education sphere is what has already happened in the last years of his presidency. President Trump’s primary focus in the K-12 education sphere has been school choice and flexibility for families. Legislation has been introduced for a $5 billion yearly tax credit to help families pay for tuition at schools of their choosing, whether private or charter, as well as other expenses related to education. It has been sitting as a proposal for some time but it is likely to come up again in a second term.

School Choice has also been part of the dialogue related to COVID-19 response, as Trump’s administration feels that families would benefit from greater flexibility, especially if the alternative is a public school closed to in-person lessons. President Trump put forward a $13 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act for schools to help reopening efforts as well and has called for a further $70 billion to keep K-12 on campuses. In regards to funding the president has called for the consolidation of the current K-12 framework and highly competitive grant programs as a single block grant for states. In his fiscal year 2021 this $19.4 billion budget is called the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant.

The administration has also given states wide flexibility in the implementation of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans while reducing the role of the federal government in the enforcement of  these plans. The general trend is a smaller role of the federal government in education and more opportunities for families to choose charter schools and private schools over public schools. Even within the public schools, though, the fluidity and decentralization could mean more freedom in the programs, pathways, and spending decisions schools can take.

Vice President Joe Biden and K-12 Education

The Democratic Candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, has called for vast overalls to bring what he calls more fairness to the education system. This involves investment in universal pre-Kindergarten as well as a proposed tripling of Title I funding. This federal program funds schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. He has criticized current teacher pay and would want to see part of his Title I proposal go towards teacher salaries in schools and districts which serve predominantly lower income communities. Vice President Biden has also called for wide ranging infrastructure improvements to make schools safer, energy efficient and state-of-the-art technologically.

Further proposals by the former Vice President call for a 10-year $775 billion program geared towards a “21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce” with far ranging education implications, especially teacher training, retention, and early childhood education. Biden has promoted school-choice freedom in the public sphere, in regards to specialized magnet schools and public charter schools, but does not believe that federal funds should pay for truly private schools.

Like President Trump, Vice President Biden has made it clear that opening schools is a priority and has called for $200 billion to be made available to schools in order to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. These funds would be used to meet health and safety protocols, support emotional and mental health needs, and ensure that in-person or remote learning is the highest possible quality. It is something he has recently as the last presidential debate.

Long Story Short

It’s really hard to know with any type of certainty how the election will affect education budgets. On one hand the Biden Campaign has released more details on its education funding plans but on the other the general trend from the Trump administration has been wide flexibility in implementation and spending and at all levels. So as far as the better option it’s really in the eye of the beholder — is it better to have more total funding or to have more discretion in spending?