Policy Summary

In the past, Bernie Sanders has sponsored bills to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, as well as to drastically reduce interest rates on student loan debt. Sanders’ is a proponent of tuition free public colleges and universities. Sanders’ also believes students shouldn’t have to reapply for financial aid every single year, and the use of work-study programs should be utilized at a higher rate. In regards to K-12 education, the Senator fights for higher-quality, affordable early childhood education and that No Child Left Behind should be seriously overhauled. When it comes to educators, the Senator believes colleges and universities should hire more faculty and increase their percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors. As for DREAMers, Sanders’ supports the position that children brought into America undocumented at a young age need to be given a fair and attainable opportunity to remain in the U.S., get an education, and contribute to the economy.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a fan of the No Child Left Behind Act in its early days who later turned away from the landmark federal education law, is the latest candidate to announce his running for the 2020 presidential election. Biden has not made education policy one of his signature issues during time in DC. However, serving as Delaware’s senator for 36 years and throughout his tenure in President Barack Obama’s White House, he had a K-12 record that touches on several issues. Biden was one of the first Democrats in recent history to support  free public education for community colleges and four year public institutions. In 2016, the former Vice-President called for 16 years of free public education, including community college and four-year public colleges. Biden also backed universal pre-Kindergarten, paid for by closing some loopholes in the tax code. On May 7th, Biden publicly clarified his positions on multiple educational issues during a speech in Las Vegas valley. Biden touched briefly on how he believes teachers need more pay, smaller class sizes, and more classroom resource in order to succeed. The former Vice President has been quite outspoken on President Trump’s take on immigration, saying it’s “betrayal” to DREAMers. In 2017, he wrote on social media, “…roughly 800,000 people known as DREAMers  arehere in America today. These children didn’t choose to come here, but now many of them are grown with families of their own. They’re paying taxes. They’ve joined the workforce. They went to college. Some of them joined the military. Now, they’ll be sent to countries they don’t even remember. These people are all Americans. So let’s be clear: throwing them out is cruel. It is inhumane. And it is not America.”  Though Biden has only supported a path to citizenship for DREAMers he has yet to lay out a specific path to do so.

Kamala Harris, a 54-year-old senator and former prosecutor, continues to blaze a strong trail throughout the United States. The native Californian has voiced concern over gun violence in schools and the consequences of racial profiling by administrators  During a speech in Oakland, California this past January the Senator said, “I am running to declare education is a fundamental right, and we will guarantee that right with universal pre-K and debt-free college”. In March, she took her position on education a step further when she addressed teacher’s pay. Harris has focused on the educator unrest sweeping the country due to issues of low pay, crowded classrooms and education funding levels, etc. “We are not paying our teachers their value,” she said at a rally at Texas Southern University in Houston. Harris has even vowed to close the teacher pay gap by the end of her first term if elected president. The California Senator’s 10-year plan to increase teachers’ salaries amounts to an average of $13,500 or a 23% increase in salary per educator. The federal government would pay the first 10%, of the overall projected total of $315 billion, to states to fill the teacher pay gap, and then invest $3 for every $1 the states contribute. The plan Harris has created would also invest billions in evidence-based programs to boost teacher development, with half of the funds going to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. Harris’ plan would obtain the finances to do so via an increase in the estate tax for the top 1% of US taxpayers. In April, Harris promoted legislation allowing Dreamers to become eligible to work as staffers or interns in Congress..

Senator of Massachusetts,  Elizabeth Warren, introduced a $1.25 trillion initiative to assist higher education by ending a majority of student loan debt and eliminating tuition at every public college. Warren would eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of less than $100,000; borrowers who earn above $100,000 and less than $250,000 would have part of their debt eliminated. Warren plans to expand federal grants to help students with non-tuition expenses and create a $50 billion fund to support historically African-American educational institutions. Warren, a member of the Senate education committee, has been very outspoken on how U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is not fit for the position she resides in. Warren has even created “DeVos Watch” on her website, detailing current oversights made by the Department of  Education. The Senator was also one of just three Democrats who voted against the earlier version of the Every Student Succeeds Act as she thought it didn’t reach far enough on accountability. However, later in time, Warren agreed with all Senate Democrats in voting for the final version of the law. Warren has also been adamantly outspoken on her support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In 2017, the Senator wrote, “Dreamers are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. They are part of the diverse and beautiful fabric of our nation…President Trump’s decision to subject Dreamers to mass deportation is part of the bigoted and anti-immigrant policies that have been a cornerstone of his administration. Turning our backs on Dreamers makes us weaker, makes us less safe, and betrays our values.”

Pete Buttigieg has not had a significant amount of experience in education policy and politics. However, as a a Rhodes Scholar and Afghanistan veteran, he’s also looking to become the first openly gay president of the United States. The 37-year-old mayor has publicly rejected the idea of Free College, riding against the currents of the popular national movement. He also called for reviewing student loan refinancing and “robust ways to have debt forgiven” specifically for graduates who decide to go into public service. At his campaign rally celebration, Buttigieg made a point of voicing his support for the nation’s educators, “Empowering teachers means freedom, because you are not free in your own classroom if your ability to do your job is reduced to a number on a page.” He also says charter schools “have a place” as “a laboratory for techniques that can be replicated.” Buttigieg openly supports providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. He proposed extending amnesty and TPS status for Dreamers and other illegals in the country, as well as reforms for legal immigration and border security. However he has been criticized for being vague and not releasing particulars for any type of immigration policy proposals.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, is offering an image of a practical Midwesterner who will promote liberal policies to primary voters. The three-term Senator has cautiously attuned her positions on many progressive platforms, voicing her support without fully backing the issues or elaborating. On free four-year college, Klobuchar has been outspokenly opposed the idea since announcing a presidential run.  Klobuchar answered a question from a young voter at at a CNN town hall forum, responding that she would not support the plan espoused by Senator Bernie Sanders for tuition-free college as she found the plan too expensive. She went on to say, “No, I am not for four-year college for all. If I was a magic genie, and could give that for everyone, and we could afford it, I would.” Instead, Klobuchar went on to explain that she would support easing restrictions on refinancing student loans, as well as expanding Pell Grants program. However, many feel as though the Senator is being timid in the face of special interests and Wall Street. Klobuchar has openly supported the DREAM Act. Posting messages on social media, such as, “…the Republican congress can’t allow 800,000 kids to be deported.  Pass the Dream Act now.” Klobuchar supported Senator Harris’ proposal to allow DREAMers to work in Congress.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is running for President and has a extensive record on education. In January, Booker vowed to run “the boldest pro-public school teacher campaign there is. However, many teachers unions and public school advocates are skeptical of such promises as in the past the Senator has often gone astray from more typical Democratic stances, such as promoting  merit pay for teachers. In 2002, he supported policies such as school choice, including privately managed charter schools, accountability for low-performing institutions and assessments for educators based on student test scores. Booker has been a vocal critic of teachers unions, something that could be problematic as he tries to run a pro-teacher campaign. Consequently, in 2010, the Newark teachers’ union openly opposed his mayoral re-election bid. Booker’s close ties to Betsy DeVos may also allow for criticism throughout the campaign trail. He has supported school vouchers with the Education Secretary, an issue many Democrats and Progressives oppose and has also served on the board of directors of the Alliance for School Choice (now known as the American Federation for Children Growth Fund) with DeVos. Booker has openly stated that children of lower-income families and children of color need ways to abandon struggling public schools in their neighborhoods. Booker said, children are “by law  locked into schools that fail their genius.” However, the Senator did not support DeVos’ nomination, saying his vote pertained to issues outside of school choice, that the answers she gave in her confirmation hearing about special education and student’s civil rights concerned him. Since then he has continued to publicly distance himself from the Education Secretary. Along with Senator Harris, Booker introduced the American Dream Employment Act,  legislation that would rescind the current prohibition on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from working or participating in paid internships in Congress. Booker commented on his support for the Act, saying, “For DREAMers, the United States is their home. They are our neighbors, classmates, community leaders, service members, teachers—DREAMers love this country…It’s time we show these DREAMers this country loves them back and allow them to work and contribute to this country in any way they choose, including working for the United States Congress. This legislation recognizes the dignity of these young people and the value they would bring to Congress as employees. When we lift up those around us, we all benefit.”

The former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke is seeking the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. The native Texan is known for  his charismatic speeches, locally-minded take on politics and his genuine manner on social media. O’Rourke does not support tuition-free public college. However, when asked to clarify he said he supported free community college  the idea of debt-free, as opposed to tuition-free, four-year public college. At a town hall forum in Carroll, Iowa, this past April, O’Rourke went on to say, “I mention debt-free higher education if it’s a publicly financed, public-serving educational institution. And then for those who have accrued the debt, that $1.5 trillion, at a minimum, let’s refinance more of that at lower rates. And then let’s increase the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.” This came as a relief for many of O’Rourke’s supporters as O’Rourke did not sign on as a co-sponsor when debt-free college legislation was introduced in the House in 2018. On his first day in Iowa as a Democratic presidential candidate, O’Rourke addressed the issue of teacher’s pay across the United States, using Texas as an example of changes needed for the future. In March he said, “Nearly half of public school teachers in Texas are working a second or a third job, not for kicks, not for extra spending cash, but just to make ends meet. To put food on the table, to buy that medication with a $444 co-pay, just to exist. And at the same time, and the gentlemen said this in his question, out of their own pocket, they are buying supplies for their classroom, supplies for the students in them.” He has openly supported issues such as increasing the salaries of our nation’s educators and implementing universal pre-kindergarten, as well as his aversion to standardized testing.O’Rourke also has garnered much attention on the subject of charter schools. His wife, Amy O’Rourke started a charter school in El Paso 13 years ago,  andnow works for an organization that backs the expansion of charter schools in the region and previously worked as a teacher in a private school. However O’Rourke has yet to speak out directly on the issue. Meanwhile, he has been outspoken in his support for providing a path for citizenship for DREAMers, recently releasing a 10-point plan that promotes citizenship for both “Dreamers” and their parents, as well as for “millions more” who now live in the U.S. illegally.


When it comes to education, there’s consensus among 2020 Democratic candidates on some basic platforms, like increasing teacher pay. However there seems to be significant divergence when it comes to issues such as lessening the burden of higher education costs, how to solve the steeply-rising student debt crisis, and ways to repair our public school system. Although  college-age millennials are a core part of the party’s base, education has not seemed to be a key issues in voter platforms. The 2020 election may be the time to change this, making education stances a more important issue for voters. Nominees like Sanders and Warren have much less of an uphill battle on the education front than nominees, such as Booker, who have supported issues such as charter schools or continuing to allow  high-cost college tuitions. Candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg who have not supported free four year colleges, will face harsh criticisms from democrats, educators and teachers unions. However, only time will tell how crucial the American public finds these platforms and only voter interest can show candidates how seriously we taking their opinions, endorsements and promises.

Engagement Resources:

  • The Stand Up 4 Public Schools campaign provides the public with a more accurate and thorough perspective of public education by capturing the ordinary, yet extraordinary activities and the dauntless and bold actions of educators – teachers, administrators, superintendents, and school board members – that help prepare students for the future.
  • Pearson unequivocally supports the provision of free, high-quality, government-funded education led by well-qualified, well-trained teachers, for every child around the world.
  •  The Teacher Salary Project is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and under-valuing educators.
  • dreamactivist.org was launched in 2008 by five undocumented youth as a site where we could share our stories of struggle and come together to develop strategies for self-defense in a country that considers them “illegal.”
  • United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country, creating a welcoming space for young people, regardless of immigration status.

Photo by unsplash-logoKimberly Farmer

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