Democrats Tackle Education Reform

By: Sarah Hirschorn (Online Editor in Chief)

The future of primary, secondary, and college education are on the minds of millions of Americans, as the 2020 election inches closer.

The election that will determine the 47th president of the United States has been long anticipated by the American people as they await the campaign trails of the 22 Democratic candidates and 2 Republican ones. Education policies greatly affect the majority of the country as college loan debts are climbing, teachers are striking, and public school systems are crumbling due to significant underfunding.

Democratic Senator of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, plans on tackling problems with the post-secondary education system. Warren wants to make college a more affordable endeavor for graduating high school students everywhere.

According to Elizabeth Warren has the biggest free college plan yet by Vox writer,  Ella Nilsen, Warren’s plan includes the following elements: “Cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000, and give “substantial debt cancellation” to every person with household income between $100,000 and $250,000. (Those making above $250,000 wouldn’t qualify),” Nilsen said.

Warren also wants to tackle student loan debt which has amounted to a total of $1.52 trillion nationwide from 44.2 million US borrowers, according to Forbes Magazine.

“Warren’s policy team estimates this plan would give debt relief to over 95 percent, and entirely forgive student loan debt for over 75 percent,” Nilsen said.

Warren plans on addressing the growing issue head-on, “Make public two- and four-year institutions tuition-free and expand Pell Grant funding to go toward additional college costs like housing, transportation, food, and books. Cut off for-profit colleges from receiving any federal funds (including federal student loans or military benefits). These schools tend to account for a huge number of defaults on their loan payments,” Nilsen.

“A majority of students who attend for-profit colleges default within three to five years after they begin repaying what they owe. Create a $50 billion fund for historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions, and add more money to it over time,” Nilsen added.

But, the plan with a hefty price tag of  $1.25 trillion over the next 10 years. In order to pay for these imporvements, Warren has proposed a financial strategy to make better funding for education possible, “Take money from Warren’s proposed tax on America’s ultra-millionaires and billionaires, which includes the 75,000 wealthiest families in the country (those making over $50 million). Warren’s tax plan would put an annual 2 percent tax on wealth above $50 million and an additional 1 percent tax on wealth above $1 billion. Warren estimates this tax would raise $2.75 trillion in revenue over 10 years, meaning her debt-forgiveness and universal education plan would cost less than half of the total revenue raised.” Nilsen concluded.

Nilsen also commented on other candidates’ plans for education. Such as the Democratic Senator of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who is also passionate about reducing the economic struggle for students attending university. Sanders has proposed the College for All Act throughput his campaign and has made this initiative a key part of his democratic platform.

“[The plan] would eliminate undergraduate tuition at four-year institutions by providing $47 billion per year to states who committed to increasing their own higher education funding with 2-1 matching federal funds. Sanders proposed tuition-free college and encouraged student loan refinancing. His plan was meant to be paid for by imposing a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses and hedge funds,” Nilsen said.

Sanders has campaigned on the idea that public universities should offer free tuition so college kids don’t have to become a part of the growing mountain of national student debt.

According to “Pete Buttigieg argues against free college. This is why progressives can’t agree about subsidizing tuition” by Elizabeth Popp Berman, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana opposes the free college initiative proposed by some his fellow Democratic candidates, such as Senator Sanders.

“Buttigieg isn’t the first progressive to argue against ending tuition. In fact, the argument that tuition-free college is regressive was, until the past few years, pretty standard on the wonkish left. But by thinking about college education in terms of human capital, it misses out on important aspects of providing public goods. This explains why Buttigieg’s proposal has raised questions from many progressives,” Berman said.

Mayor Pete comments on his reasoning for the pushback against free college. “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did,” Buttigieg said.

Berman explains Buttigieg’s viewpoints on post-secondary education in simple terms. “The Buttigieg argument goes like this: College increases the incomes of those who complete it. But the people who go to college are typically already better off. By charging them less than the actual cost of their education, we’re using the tax dollars of poorer non-college-goers to pay for the education of their richer counterparts — whose earning potential will only increase with their shiny new bachelor’s degree,” Berman added.

California Senator, Kamala Harris, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, plans to start with the increase of teacher salaries. According to Kamala Harris’s plan to dramatically increase teacher salaries, explained” by Vox writer Dylan Scott, Harris will focus her educational plans on our country’s educators before student issues are addressed.

“The California senator is proposing the federal government spend $315 billion to increase teacher salaries over the next 10 years. The Harris plan starts with a specific goal: giving the average teacher a $13,500 raise over four years, which her campaign says would close the gap in what US teachers currently make compared to other professionals with similar education and experience. The average teacher salary is currently about $60,000, though there is considerable variation across states,” Scott said.

Harris proposes that most of the support fo this revamp to the federal government will be the primary task of The Education Department who will work with state education agencies, to reset standards beginner teachers salaries, and then increase the rate based on their time of service.

“In the first year, the federal government would provide 10 percent of the funding for the pay raises directly to states. States would be required to use the federal dollars on teachers compensation, rather than to replace their existing K-12 funding. In the second, third, and fourth years of the plan, states would be required to chip in, but they would still receive a generous federal match — for every $1 that a state spends to increase teacher salaries, the feds would kick in $3,” Scott added.

Harris has made the topic of economic justice a key pinpoint of her campaign for president. “Raising teacher pay is one pillar in a strategy to bring working people who are the backbone of our economy out of the margins and into the center of the conversation about economic justice,” Harris’s campaign said.

According to “Cory Booker’s massive overhaul of the Newark schools, explained” by writer Dylan Scott, the former Senator of New Jersey and candidate Corey Booker, has had a complicated past with education reform. “When Booker became mayor in 2006, the Newark schools were being overseen by the state of New Jersey. The state government had taken over 10 years earlier after an investigation revealed corruption in the school district bureaucracy and appallingly poor student achievement. That investigation had concluded that the longer students stayed in the Newark schools, the less likely they were to succeed. But under state control, student performance was still stagnant. Most kids weren’t reading at their grade level, and the high school graduation rate was barely above 50 percent,” Scott said.

“Booker solicited tens of millions of dollars from Mark Zuckerberg and other wealthy donors to help fund an overhaul of the school system…Principals were told to think of themselves as CEOs, and teachers received bonuses based on students’ performance. And Booker did realize his vision: Charter school enrollments soared, principals and teachers were replaced, and a new union contract extended the school day and established new ways to judge teachers’ performance,” Scott said.

“A new system of open enrollment gave families more say in the school their children would attend. A decade later… The city’s charter sector is thriving, and research shows student performance is improving, but the traditional schools that still serve a majority of the city’s kids face debilitating budget deficits. Reform opponents and supporters fight bitterly to this day about whether Booker’s overhaul failed or succeeded,” Scott added.

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