By Larry Sand
As I wrote last week, charter school students, kids who are in other school choice programs, and taxpayers could be getting the short end of the stick if Joe Biden becomes president on January 20th.
To assist Biden with policy decisions, the National Education Association came out with a “policy playbook” last week, which details specific actions the union wants the Biden administration to adopt. Not surprisingly, their prescriptions are all far left and include suggestions in far-ranging areas. On page two of the 54-page manifesto, NEA states that “the administration needs to resolve funding inequities by driving more resources to students and communities with the greatest needs. In addition, the union asserts that the country “needs an unadulterated national repudiation of white supremacist culture,” and that the administration needs to affirm that “no haven exists for hate crimes, white supremacy, and anti-immigrant policies.” Court-packing on all levels is also on the union’s to-do list, as well as is a single-payer, nationalized health care system with universal coverage, federal gun control and a nation-wide mask mandate.
Importantly, the document also encapsulates NEA’s long-standing enmity toward charter schools, which are independently-operated public schools of choice. Charter schools are usually not unionized and don’t have to follow the litany of rules and regs that traditional public schools do, which in turn gives them greater freedom to meet their students’ needs. In a nutshell, NEA wants to regulate them to death, so that there is no effective difference between them and traditional government-run schools. The union also vaguely states that it opposes “all charter school expansion that undermines traditional public schools.”
And just what was Biden’s position on charter schools before the NEA screed was released?
He has had many. As a candidate in 2019, he agreed with NEA president Lily Eskelsen García’s claim that charter schools are “very misguided school reforms.” In May 2020, he said that if he is elected, “Charter schools are gone.” Period. Then his policy advisor Stef Feldman tried to clarify things earlier this month, insisting that he doesn’t want to get rid of charters, but instead would “require them to be authorized by and accountable to democratically-elected school bodies such as school boards and be held to the same levels of transparency and accountability as district schools.” In other words, like the NEA, he wants to eviscerate them. Also, someone needs to apprise the Biden team that traditional district schools don’t have any accountability in most places. Teachers almost never get fired for doing a bad job. Everyone gets raises regardless of their effectiveness. And speaking of effectiveness, the latest NAEP or “Nation’s Report Card” reveals that just 37 percent of U.S. 12th-grade students are proficient in reading and a pitiful 24 percent in math.
Also, on the school choice front, Biden has promised to stop funding the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, where nearly 98 percent of students with vouchers graduate from high school, compared with just 69 percent of D.C. public school students. Additionally, 86 percent of DCOSP students go on to college.
While Biden is busy kowtowing to his teacher union masters, taxpayers will take a hit as a result of his misguided education agenda. His plan includes forgiveness of up to $10,000 in loan debt for student borrowers. But a debt is a debt, and if the borrowers aren’t repaying, who is? It is the taxpayer, of course, who will bear the brunt. Moreover, as researcher Preston Cooper writes, it’s a regressive tax that benefits the rich. “Out of 255 million adult Americans, just 45 million have federal student debt. If economic relief is in order, it’s highly inequitable to distribute tens of thousands of dollars to the 45 million while the other 210 million get nothing.”
In addition to paying off student loans with your money, Biden also wants access to your wallet in other ways. He has pledged to dramatically increase federal aid to schools, including tripling Title I funding (targeting students from low-income households) from around $16 billion to more than $45 billion and to “fully fund” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which now costs $13.6 billion yearly. To put things into perspective, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke pointed out in 2018 that we have spent over $2 trillion (inflation-adjusted) on education at the federal level since 1965, and have tripled our spending nationally over a forty year period, with virtually nothing to show for it.
Long time education reformer Chris Stewart recently penned an excellent piece in which he asks, “Mr. Biden, Will You Stand Up for Every Child, or Just Be Another Politician?” He writes, “The point here is that you are at a fork in the road. You can bend to the will of political groups who are vested in a one-size-fits-all education system, or you can stand up for all families who want and need a variety of educational opportunities. To date, you have mostly put teachers’ unions and their policy agenda first.”
Sadly, the evidence is that Biden, whose wife is an NEA member, will continue to be in the pockets of the teachers unions. And at the same time, if we don’t wind up with a Republican majority in the Senate, taxpayers’ pockets will be picked like never before.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.