After much anticipation and some criticism, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren added pre-K-12 education to her trove of plans. Senator Warren, a former special education teacher, has been active in education policy in her time in the Senate as a member of the committee tasked with overseeing education. Until now, Warren’s education plans only included higher education and early childhood education (and child care). Having many public disputes with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, her primary promise on K-12 education had been that the next secretary would be a former public school teacher.
Her new plan has many prongs including discrimination in schools, school climate, the teaching profession and school workers, and the privatization of public schools. While those policies—especially those addressing charter schools and teachers—are likely to grab headlines, her proposal to restructure education funding is ambitious and notable. Education funding in the United States is long overdue for an overhaul. Our current school funding system is one where states and local communities provide the lion’s share of funding, with the federal government chipping in only about 10 percent of the money.
The other 90% of school funding is overly reliant on property taxes, where communities with wealthy households with higher property values end up with more revenue for schools. This often leaves poor neighborhoods with poor schools. Warren accurately says this system is inadequate and inequitable and ends up “shortchanging low-income areas and condemning communities caught in a spiral of decreasing property values and declining schools.” She importantly shows how linking school funding to property values continues the effects of racist housing policies, like redlining, making students of color disproportionately likely to attend under-funded schools.
Warren’s plan first tackles problems with the federal government’s 10% by quadrupling the investment in Title I funding—the federal government’s primary grant program for low-income schools. Paid for by her wealth tax, Warren would funnel an additional $450 billion into low-income schools over the next 10 years. She also committed to improve the funding formula to ensure the money goes to the students and schools with the most need and requiring states to chip in more and adopt progressive formulas. Senator Warren promises to make good on the federal government’s pledge to cover 40% of the funding to educate students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act since the federal government only funded 15% last year.
Senator Warren also proposes the creation of “Excellence Grants” for any public school, totaling $100 billion over ten years. This amount is the equivalent of about $1 million per school, according to her plan. These grants would be provided so schools can ensure they have sufficient resources for a high-quality education by invest in programs and resources for students. She says the grants could be used towards restoring afterschool programs, developing state-of-the-art labs, and more.
Warren also proposes using Excellence Grants to develop community schools, with a goal of helping 25,000 public schools transition to the community school model by 2030. Community schools serve as hubs in their community, connecting schools and their students and parents to partners in the community. This creates a streamlined network so students and families have access to wraparound services like health care and social services.
Lastly, Senator Warren’s plan provides a significant investment into school infrastructure. Warren outlines existing problems with school facilities and infrastructure pointing to leaky roofs, insufficient heating and air, mold, and lead pipes. A Warren Administration would invest $50 billion in school infrastructure improvements, prioritizing schools needing it the most. Warren points out that this would be in addition to improvements already included in her other plans. For example, her housing plan has grants that could be used for school repairs and her plan for rural America would ensure broadband is at every school.
At this point, the 2020 presidential primary and debates have focused very little on early childhood and K-12 education, with just one brief discussion on school busing. Warren’s plan adds to a list of candidates with detailed education plans, including Julián Castro, Joe Biden, Michael Bennet, and more. Hopefully, as more candidates introduce serious and detailed plans these important issues with get the attention they deserve.