PROVIDING A WORLD-CLASS EDUCATION IN EVERY ZIP CODE
Education is fundamental to the idea of America and to fulfilling our nation’s promise. It is the key to addressing the challenges before us—to growing our economy, maintaining American competitiveness on the world stage, and building a more just, equitable, civically engaged, and socially conscientious nation. As Democrats, we believe that education is a critical public good—not a commodity—and that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that every child, everywhere, is able to receive a world-class education that enables them to lead meaningful lives, no matter their race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability status, language status, immigration or citizenship status, household income or ZIP code.
For too long, we have short-changed our children by underinvesting in our nation’s public schools and in our higher education system. Despite ample research showing that early childhood education can improve outcomes for students for decades to come, we still do not have universal, high-quality pre-K. Despite the decades-long trend that has seen more and more women entering the labor force as breadwinners, it is still far too difficult for families to secure safe and affordable child care services. Our public schools are bedrock community institutions, and yet our educators are underpaid, our classrooms are overstuffed, and our school buildings have been neglected, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Roughly six in 10 jobs require at least some education beyond high school, and yet the ever-rising cost of college tuition and fees leaves higher education out of reach—or saddles students with a lifetime of debt.
The emergency conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic have vividly demonstrated to parents, students, and educators across the country that there is no sustainable, long-term substitute for high-quality, in-classroom learning. Significant gaps in access to technology, including lack of access to high-speed broadband and connected devices, have deepened inequities in our educational system for students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students in rural areas and under-resourced neighborhoods during this pandemic. We will significantly increase federal investments in rural, urban, and Tribal broadband infrastructure to close the digital divide and ensure students can access educational resources from their homes and schools now and in the future. We will need increased investments in public education to help students get back on track when public health experts determine it is safe to return to schools.
Democrats believe we can and must do better for our children, our educators, and our country. We are committed to making the investments our students and teachers need to build equity and safeguard humanity in our educational system and guarantee every child can receive a great education. To this end, we support K-12 instruction in civics and climate literacy. We will support evidence-based programs and pedagogical approaches, including assessments that consider the well-being of the whole student and recognize the range of ways students can demonstrate learning. We will reimagine our education system guided by the stakeholders and qualified, first-class, well-trained, passionate educators who know these issues best: young people, educators, parents, and community leaders. Democrats fundamentally believe our education system should prepare all our students—indeed, all of us—for college, careers, lifelong learning, and to be informed, engaged citizens of our communities, our country, and our planet.
Guaranteeing Universal Early Childhood Education
Democrats believe that all children across the United States should have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. We will work with states to offer pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds and expand Head Start and Early Head Start. We will drive increased resources to the communities with the highest need, including those with the highest concentrations of low-income students, impoverished urban areas impacted by gentrification, and rural areas, and will strive to support holistic school readiness. We also will ensure students with disabilities and English language learners have access to and are fully included in early childhood programs.
We recognize that learning starts at birth, and the exorbitant costs of safe, quality child care present a significant economic burden to families. Democrats support making child care and dependent tax credits significantly more generous and will increase funding to states to guarantee that low-income and middle class families can afford child care. We will make major investments to increase quality options for parents and increase compensation for providers. Democrats also support expanding proven programs for low-income and first-time parents, guardians, and caregivers, including home visiting, that can help connect families in need to child care, education, and child development opportunities and improve outcomes for children and parents alike.
Democrats also support raising early childhood standards and providing ongoing professional development for early childhood educators, to ensure that children’s academic, social development, behavioral, and cognitive needs are being met. Democrats believe that early childhood educators, like all educators and all workers, should be paid a family-supporting wage, have access to benefits and paid leave, and be able to organize, join a union, and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Supporting High-Quality K-12 Schools Across America
Each year, the United States spends $23 billion more on schools in predominantly white districts than in non-white districts. Using property taxes to fund public K-12 schools results in inequitable treatment for students in low-income school districts, compared to those in wealthier areas. Democrats are committed to closing the school funding gap by tripling Title I funding, which benefits schools that serve low-income students, and incentivizing states to adopt progressive funding formulas that direct resources to the schools that need it most. We will also ensure sustainable, reliable funding for rural schools, schools in impoverished urban areas impacted by gentrification, and Bureau of Indian Education schools.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has made plain, our public schools are more than places where children learn—they are pillars of our neighborhoods and our society. Democrats believe that no student should ever be shamed over school lunch debt, and support expanding universal free school meal programs. We will also support wraparound health care and nutrition services, before- and after-school programs, adult education classes, and other services by significantly expanding the community school model.
Students should have multiple public school pathways to be able to access the opportunities they deserve. Democrats will work to expand access to career and technical education, magnet schools for science and the arts, International Baccalaureate programs, and early college high schools to offer multiple pathways to meet the diverse needs and interests of America’s high school students. We will increase investments in high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs in our public schools, support access to computer science for all and improve professional development opportunities for math and science teachers, including through the creation of a national science corps of outstanding STEM teachers serving as leaders in their schools and communities. Democrats believe we must prioritize STEAM education and funding for underrepresented students, including students of color, girls, and low-income students, to help remove enrollment and achievement barriers. We will equip students with the knowledge and skills to understand complex scientific issues, counter the rising tide of denialism by promoting environmental and climate literacy, and reverse the Trump Administration’s cuts to the National Environmental Education Act. In addition to developing strong literacy, numeracy, and STEAM skills, our education system should develop the deep learning and life skills needed to thrive in the 21st century economy, including critical and creative thinking, leadership, and judgment and decision-making.
Charter schools were originally intended to be publicly funded schools with increased flexibility in program design and operations. Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding. And we recognize the need for more stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards of federal education funds. We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. We will call for conditioning federal funding for new, expanded charter schools or for charter school renewals on a district’s review of whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students. And Democrats oppose private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system, including the program at issue in the recent Espinoza decision.
Democrats are committed to safe and supportive school climates for students and educators alike. Guns have no place in our schools. We disagree strongly with the Trump Administration’s dangerous and short-sighted suggestion that teachers should bring firearms into the classroom. Democrats also believe that all schools should have adequate resources to expand school-based health services and hire guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, and school psychologists to help support students’ mental health needs, address trauma, and promote social and emotional development. We will work with school administrators, educators, students, and mental health advocates to reduce the stigma that too often prevents students from seeking out these resources. Democrats will make sure schools do not engage in, and appropriately address, discrimination, bullying and harassment related to sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity; race; national origin; immigration or citizenship status; religion; disability; and language status. We will protect the rights of transgender students.
It is unacceptable that America’s public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the late 1960s. Schools—and classrooms and programs within schools—continue to be segregated by race and class. And, with increasing frequency, students are being unnecessarily and unlawfully segregated by disability, language status and through the use of exclusionary discipline and school-based arrests. We believe that schools must no longer engage in segregation and segregative practices. Democrats support appointing judges who will enforce the Civil Rights Act in schools. We will fund federal programs to promote integration and school diversity, including magnet schools and school transportation initiatives. We will also reinvigorate and increase funding for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, expand the civil rights data collection to inform civil rights enforcement and the public on the status of equal educational opportunity for all children, and build on the Strength in Diversity Act to increase federal funding for community-driven strategies to desegregate schools.
All children have the Constitutional right to go to school. Schools should be safe zones for children and their families, which is why Democrats will protect sensitive locations like schools from immigration enforcement actions. Democrats believe that English learners should be recognized as bringing an asset, rather than a deficit, with them to school. We recognize the need for significantly increased funding and support for English learners to ensure they can participate meaningfully and equally in school. Democrats will protect the civil rights of limited English proficient parents so they receive information in the language they understand and are able to meaningfully participate in their child’s education, including through public meetings and community decision-making mechanisms.
Democrats believe in providing equal educational opportunities for students with disabilities. We will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and fully implement its requirements for a free appropriate public education and least restrictive environment. We will support aggressive enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the integration mandate of the Olmstead decision, and provide school districts with additional resources to better serve students with disabilities. We will ban seclusion and prevent and decrease use of physical restraint, in partnership with teachers, school administrators, and the disability rights movement. Democrats also support aggressive enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act in schools and other settings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made long-standing educational disparities evident to all Americans. Democrats will prioritize equitable education and access for students with disabilities, English language learners, low-income students, students of color, and urban and rural students, including those who are homeless, are immigrants or refugees, or are in the foster care or juvenile justice systems. Remote instruction must be individualized to the greatest possible extent and reasonable modifications should be provided for students with disabilities even during a pandemic.
The evidence from nearly two decades of education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores shows clearly that high-stakes testing has not led to enough improvement in outcomes for students or for schools, and can lead to discrimination against students, particularly students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, and English language learners. Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop reliable, continuous, evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement. Assessments will provide families with clear, accessible, consistent information about how well schools are serving individual students and groups of students, while better representing student achievement. Students, parents, and educators will be supported by data collection and analysis disaggregated by race, gender, disability status, and other important variables, to identify and address disparities in educational equity, access, and outcomes.
Educators have always been heroes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the value that educators provide to children, parents, and the economy obvious as never before to tens of millions of Americans. Public school educators should have the same rights to organize, join a union, and collectively bargain as private sector workers. Democrats will fight to significantly increase pay and benefits for all educators, in order to help recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teachers and support professionals, and will continue to support measures to help teachers pay for out-of-pocket classroom expenses. We will support programs to help introduce high school students to the teaching profession, enable school support staff to climb the professional ladder within schools, and recruit a diverse educational workforce through partnerships with HBCUs, MSIs, and TCUs.
Making Higher Education Affordable and Accessible
Democrats believe that everyone should be able to earn a degree beyond high school, if they choose to, without money standing in the way. That is why we will make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose families earn less than $125,000—roughly 80 percent of the American people. We will double the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income students, and double federal support for TRIO programs that help first-generation college students, students with disabilities, veterans, and other underrepresented groups apply to and complete college.
HBCUs, MSIs, and TCUs serve a disproportionate number of low-income students who might otherwise be unable to access a college degree, and yet these vital institutions are chronically under-resourced. Democrats will work to provide grants to HBCUs, MSIs, and TCUs to lower student costs, increase academic research capabilities, and ensure these essential institutions can continue to thrive in the future.
Democrats support making community colleges and trade schools tuition-free for all students, including Dreamers. Our nation’s network of two-year community colleges provides accessible, high-quality education for students of all ages. Democrats will additionally support and expand pre-apprenticeship opportunities and registered apprenticeships with formal worker representation in program development to provide a clear pathway to high-quality jobs that does not require attending college.
We will increase federal support for services like child care on college campuses, so more students are able to balance the demands of school and family and graduate with degrees. Democrats also support increased funding for wraparound services, including covering the cost of textbooks and fees for low-income students and establishing programs to address campus food insecurity, so students can focus on what matters most: their studies.
Democrats will fight to create a federal funding program for higher education, modeled on Title I funding for K-12 schools, that would direct funds to public and nonprofit colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions based on the proportion of low-income students those schools enroll and graduate. We will promote transparency and fairness regarding higher education faculty working conditions, including adjuncts, graduate employees, and full-time lecturers who are often grossly underpaid compared to full professors, and support and encourage professor tenure. And Democrats will safeguard academic freedom on college campuses.
Democrats oppose the Trump Administration’s cruel and capricious treatment of international students studying in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people around the world dream of coming to the United States, especially to study, innovate, and contribute to our research institutions, our economy, and our communities. Winning the competition for talents is a major component for winning global competitions in the 21st century. Democrats are committed to policies that make the United States welcoming to the more than one million international students who come to study in our colleges and universities annually, contributing to our higher education sector and to our nation’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy. We will act to restore trust and certainty for international students and the higher education sector as part of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s harmful policies toward international students.
Providing Borrowers Relief from Crushing Student Debt
Student debt is holding millions of Americans back. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s recession are making it harder for those with student loans to make ends meet right now. Democrats will work to authorize up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower to help families weather this crisis.
Beyond that immediate relief, Democrats will also take steps to ease the burden of high monthly student loan payments through legislative and administration relief processes, including creating a simplified repayment process. Democrats will work to pause monthly billing and stop interest from accruing on federal student loans for people earning less than $25,000, and cap payments at no more than five percent of discretionary income for those earning more than $25,000. After 20 years, remaining federal student loan debt should be automatically forgiven without tax liability. For those earning less than $125,000, we support forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities, and we will also apply this benefit to individuals holding federal student loans for tuition from private HBCUs and MSIs.
Democrats support modernizing and improving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, including making the enrollment process automatic for people who work in schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. We will also make the program more generous by forgiving up to $10,000 in student debt per year for up to five years, and apply this action to people who have already dedicated 5 years or less of service to working in our schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. We reject Republican proposals that, in the name of simplification, would make students pay billions of dollars more on their student loans.
Not only will these measures make it easier for Americans to buy a home or start a small business, student debt forgiveness is key to helping address the racial wealth gap, as students of color are more likely to have to borrow to finance higher education. Democrats will also empower the CFPB to take action against exploitative lenders and will work with Congress to allow student debt to be discharged during bankruptcy.
The Trump Administration has let for-profit colleges and universities once again prey upon students with impunity by repealing important protections. Democrats will crack down on predatory for-profit higher education programs, including by issuing requirements that these programs be able to demonstrate their value and effectiveness before becoming eligible for federal student loans. We will call upon the Secretary of Education to forgive debt carried by students who were ripped off by predatory schools, including by programs that defrauded students or that misrepresented program offerings or program outcomes, as well as debt held by people who are permanently disabled. And we will protect veterans and servicemembers from being steered into low-performing for-profit higher education and professional programs.