By Loredana Carson
When Joe Biden announced his plan for education in fall 2020, much of what he proposed was reported with the caveat that it didn’t stand much of a chance, given the assumption that the Republicans would continue to control the Senate.
However, with the results of the Georgia runoff election, some of his ideas may actually come to fruition, provided the nation is able to rise above the pandemic and turn its attention to education and other issues.
The fact that Biden’s education plan is so robust stands in stark contrast to that of the previous administration. Biden’s proposal is notable for its thoroughness and detailed focus on the three main areas of the education pipeline: early childhood, K-12, and higher education. The new administration has the opportunity to pass some game-changing legislation and, even if only a small percentage of the initiatives succeed, both students and teachers will be better off in four years than they are now.
His primary goals include raising teacher pay, investing in school infrastructure and resources, decreasing inequality in education, providing career and technical education for middle and high school students, and increasing funding for early childhood education.
In order to accomplish these goals, he has allocated funding in multiple areas of the budget, making a final figure difficult to quote at this time. In January, Education Week mentioned $130 billion for national K-12 funding alone, but that included money for COVID-19-related items such as safety gear for teachers and testing for students and staff.
These goals are particularly important now. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of remedying inadequate educational funding.
Even before the pandemic, research found that 20% of children face mental health issues. These struggles impact a child’s ability to learn and so become pertinent when considering allotments for psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers in the nation’s schools. Pre-pandemic, the ratios were dismal, and if anything, the need will increase as students return to in-person learning.
By committing to expanding funding for school infrastructure, Biden acknowledges the concerns of many educators who have lobbied unsuccessfully for money to address such basics as crumbling buildings and outdated pipes. In addition, such resource allocations could expand the concept of community schools, in which school sites turn into hubs that work in conjunction with wraparound services such as after-school care, health care, and social workers to address the unmet needs of families unable to access these pivotal services.
Biden commits in his plan to invest in closing the funding gap between rich and poor districts by expanding Title I dollars that go to schools serving low-income families. In addition to the resource funding previously mentioned, this money can go toward teacher pay as well as universal Pre-K, which would give 3- and 4-year-olds access to high quality preschool.
My colleague and well-known economist Jamshid Damooei has written frequently on the benefit of investing in early childhood and has demonstrated that such spending decreases truancy, dropout rates, incarceration, and joblessness, all of which carry a high societal cost.
How much of the budget would end up in our local schools is hard to determine. However, if enacted, the Biden plan could have a significant impact in California and in the Tri-Counties. It remains to be seen how this ambitious proposal will play out, but it is worth watching.
• Loredana Carson is a lecturer in the California Lutheran University School of Management and has a doctorate in higher education leadership and a master’s degree in public policy and administration.