Teachers and other education advocates are feeling giddy at the possibility of moving forward a progressive agenda that the current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, stopped dead in its tracks four years ago. President-elect Joe Biden campaign’s policy director, Stef Feldman, told the Education Writers Association that as president, Biden would “get some big, bold education legislation passed and certainly immediate relief for our schools and our educators,” and said Biden would take executive actions as well. Many of those executive actions, education advocates hope, will de-DeVos the Department of Education.
Here are some of the likeliest ways public education will change in a Biden-Harris administration.
Enforce all students’ civil rights
Earlier this year, Betsy DeVos announced sweeping revisions to the federal civil rights law Title IX, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded schools. As a result, a judicial-like process is now used to investigate sexual harassment complaints, giving the accused a right to cross-examine accusers in a live hearing. Student advocates have said this would deter survivors from reporting assaults, which were already underreported.
Biden has also vowed to restore Obama-era civil rights guidance letters, which were rescinded by DeVos. Those include allowing transgender students to choose their own restrooms, addressing the disproportionate disciplining of Black students and pressing for diversity in colleges and K-12 classrooms.
“The good news is that Secretary DeVos has been more effective at doing damage to Obama-era policies than at creating anything new,” Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center, told Capital & Main. “So the first and easiest items on the Biden education checklist should be reissuing — and perhaps even strengthening — Obama-era guidance letters. I call this process ‘de-DeVos-ing.'”
Spending on K-12 will increase
For several years Trump/DeVos proposed major federal spending cuts to education that were rejected by Congress, including zeroing out the budget for after-school programs for needy youth. In a Biden administration, Congress will likely be asked to approve increased education spending.
Biden has promised to triple Title I aid for low-income schools, with requirements for higher teacher pay, and vowed to double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses and social workers in schools. He has promised to invest in school infrastructure to address health risks and dramatically increase funding for special education. Unlike DeVos, Biden also wants the federal government to fund universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-old children, make community college debt-free, and double Pell grants for low-income and middle class students.
Paying for college may become easier
For four years in a row, DeVos proposed dismantling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was created in 2007 with bipartisan support. She has also proposed slashing subsidized federal student loans, work-study funding and parent PLUS loans.
In addition to promises to shore up these programs, Biden said he supports canceling $10,000 of debt per student — far less than what rivals for the Democratic nomination had advocated — as well as making community college free, doubling Pell grants and