What's at Stake for Education in the 2020 Election

A voter's guide.

whats at stake
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In regard to education policy in the November 2020 election, from student loan policy and COVID-19 education rules to public versus for-profit schools, much of it comes down to one woman: Betsy DeVos. (opens in new tab) President Trump's Secretary of Education, a woman who has been described as "the most unpopular person in our government, (opens in new tab)" is behind what some pundits describe as the longest-lasting and most seismic legacies of the current administration. In particular, critics have taken aim (opens in new tab) at DeVos' policies that work towards defunding and delegitimizing public education.

It's likely that under another term of President Trump and DeVos, public schools will continue to suffer and lose resources; meanwhile, private, religious, and for-profit institutions are likely to be deregulated and given tools to flourish. Here, some of the most critical issues in regard to education policy, and where the Democratic and Republican candidates stand on each.

Education and COVID-19

Trump and DeVos: Trump threatened (opens in new tab) to defund schools that do not open despite COVID-19 concerns—a threat that DeVos supported—in a move that has been called "dangerous" and is at odds with CDC recommendations. Experts said he has no legal authority to withhold the funds. DeVos, meanwhile, is using the $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization law to funnel money (opens in new tab) designed for public school to private and religious schools, and was accused of “exploiting Congressional relief efforts.”

Harris and Biden: As for Harris and Biden's COVID-19 plan as it relates to schools (opens in new tab), the plan is to allow the CDC to provide national-level guidance about the dangers of COVID-19 spread to young people; to utilize funds to account for shortfalls in budget that impact teachers; and to use a "dial" analogy to make critical decisions about when to close or open schools and how to re-open them safely based on risk and spread.

Public vs. For-Profit and Private Schools

Trump and DeVos: DeVos has strongly advocated for private religious schools like the one she attended (opens in new tab). For the fiscal year 2020, DeVos supported (opens in new tab) the administration's providing no support to the community schools program but $40 million to charter schools. That proposal would cut $5 billion from public schools and cut Department of Education budgeting by 10 percent. DeVos also champions federal vouchers for private schools, which would drain money from public schools.

Harris and Biden: The Biden-Harris education plan (opens in new tab) proposes prioritizing public schools and providing additional supports like health professionals; leveraging community resources for additional care to students and parents; eliminating gaps in funding between white and non-white schools; establishing universal pre-K; and ensuring a safe school environment (including investing in infrastructure and increased gun control).

Teachers' Rights and Salary

Trump and Devos: DeVos has criticized teachers (opens in new tab) and called them "bullies (opens in new tab)." She's very anti-union, and anti-teachers' unions in particular (opens in new tab). She has favored programs that arm teachers (opens in new tab) in the classroom.

Harris and Biden: Jill Biden, an educator for three decades, is the face of Biden's plan for education (opens in new tab). Biden has said that he'll ensure teachers receive adequate compensation and benefits (the average teacher's salary hasn't increased since 1996). As a presidential candidate, Harris proposed raising teachers' salaries by $13,500.

Student Loan Debt and College Tuition

Trump and DeVos: DeVos and the current administration are accused of enabling debt collection companies to engage in "deceptive" collection practices (opens in new tab) by misleading or cheating borrowers, which they deny. DeVos repealed the "gainful employment rule (opens in new tab)" that prevents for-profit schools from preying on students by offering education and then failing to deliver on those results. DeVos also made it harder for these students to obtain help (opens in new tab) after being defrauded.

Biden and Harris: Both Biden and Harris supported a bill (opens in new tab) to cancel $10,000 in student loans for every borrower. Harris has stated (opens in new tab) that she's in favor of free community college, debt-free four-year public college, and universal pre-K. Their plan includes providing two years of free community college; investing in facilities and technology; making public education free for families making less than $125,000; giving additional monetary support to students; and reducing existing loan amounts.

Education and Social Justice

Trump and DeVos: The current administration has rolled back protections for assault survivors (opens in new tab) and transgender students (opens in new tab), as well as students who face racism (opens in new tab) and Obama-era policies that aim to reduce racism in education.

Biden and Harris: For Harris, the issue is personal: She was one of the students (opens in new tab) in the historical Berkeley busing program as the schools integrated. The current Biden-Harris plan for education (opens in new tab) includes expanding students' ability (opens in new tab) to be able to use grants and aid for more than just tuition, and using community programs to provide support for students who face challenges like poverty. Institutions like HBCUs will also be supported.

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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.