Concept_Education

Joe Biden's Preschool and K-12 Education Plan

Jan 14, 2020 | Other Spending

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed his Plan for Educators, Students, and our Future focused on preschool and K-12 education. According to the campaign, the plan would provide “educators the support and respect they need and deserve, and invests in all children from birth, so that regardless of their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability, they are prepared to succeed in tomorrow’s economy.”

Among other changes, the plan would roughly triple K-12 funding for Title I assistance for schools with higher numbers of low-income students and federal special education programs, provide universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds, include in federal infrastructure legislation funding to improve public school buildings, and provide opportunities for teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to other teachers while being compensated for the additional work.

We estimate the plan would cost about $850 billion over ten years. While Vice President Biden has not yet identified specific offsets for this education plan, the campaign has proposed $3.2 trillion in new taxes (by its own estimates), some of which could be used to finance these new costs (though much has already been pledged for other purposes).

This policy explainer is part of US Budget Watch 2020, a project covering the 2020 presidential election. In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to publish analyses of candidate proposals that are having the greatest impact on the debate over our nation’s future. You can read more of our policy explainers and factchecks here. US Budget Watch 2020 is designed to inform the public and is not intended to express a view for or against any candidate or any specific policy proposal. Candidates’ proposals should be evaluated on a broad array of policy perspectives, including but certainly not limited to their approaches on deficits and debt.

What's in the Education Plan? 

Vice President Biden’s preschool and K-12 education plan contains a number of reforms, including five main elements with significant budgetary implications. It would:

  • Triple Title I funding for public schools, with some of the funds going to increase teacher salaries
  • Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), roughly tripling current levels of funding, phased in over a decade
  • Provide universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds
  • Improve public school buildings as part of infrastructure legislation
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to other educators while being compensated for the additional work

At the core of the plan are proposals to increase public school funding, specifically through tripling the annual appropriation for Title I and fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Title I is a federal program that provides funds to local school boards and to public schools serving a high percentage of students from low-income families. Under Vice President Biden’s proposal, the annual appropriation for the program would triple from about $16 billion this year to nearly $50 billion. The new funding would be used to increase teacher salaries and provide access to rigorous coursework (e.g., Advanced Placement classes) at all schools. We estimate this would cost about $350 billion over ten years.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides additional funding to public schools to provide resources for students with disabilities. The act authorizes the federal government to reimburse 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure; however, appropriations have historically been closer to 14 percent. Vice President Biden proposes funding the IDEA up to the 40 percent obligation within ten years, which we estimate would cost nearly $100 billion over a decade, assuming a ten-year phase in.1

Vice President Biden’s plan would also provide universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds to help close the achievement gap and promote labor force participation for parents who want to work. We assume this proposal is similar to President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All Initiative that aimed to provide all four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families with preschool while encouraging states to provide additional access to four-year-olds from middle-class families. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated Preschool for All would cost the federal government $66 billion over the 2017-2026 budget window. Adjusting that estimate for the fact that the plan would also provide universal pre-kindergarten to all three-year-olds and assuming the policy is fully in effect from 2021 to 2030, we estimate this proposal would cost the federal government about $150 billion over ten years.2

In addition, Vice President Biden would improve public school buildings as part of his infrastructure plan. Funds would be used to address health risks associated with current aging buildings and “to build cutting-edge, energy-efficient, innovative schools with technology and labs to prepare our students for the jobs of the future.” Vice President Biden has said this would cost $100 billion.

Finally, the plan would provide opportunities for teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to other educators while being compensated for the additional work. The funds would also “be used to help teachers who choose to earn an additional certification in a high-demand area – like special education or bilingual education – while they are still teaching to do so without accumulating debt.” Vice President Biden has said this would cost $100 billion.

Vice President Biden’s education plan also contains several smaller proposals. Specifically, it would: allow Pell Grants to be used for high school students taking college-level courses; establish partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and employers; double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools; double funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program; provide funds to ensure there's an early childhood development expert in every Community Health Center; and offer grants to help cities place early childhood development experts in pediatrician offices with low-income patients. We estimate these policies would cost the federal government about $50 billion over ten years on a combined basis.

How Much Would the Plan Cost? 

The Biden campaign has not publicly estimated the cost of its preschool and K-12 education plan to our knowledge. Based on our estimates outlined above, we believe the plan would cost the federal government roughly $850 billion over ten years. Our estimates assume the plan would be implemented immediately and that new discretionary spending is funded on top of existing spending.

Proposal Ten-Year Cost
Triple Title I funding for public schools $350 billion
Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by roughly tripling federal funding to public schools for children with disabilities $100 billion
Provide universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds $150 billion
Improve public school infrastructure $100 billion
Provide opportunities for teachers to serve as mentors and coaches to other teachers while being compensated for the additional work  $100 billion
Other Proposals $50 billion
Total  $850 billion

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates based on data provided by the Biden campaign, Congressional Budget Office, Office of Management and Budget, and U.S. Department of Education.

While we have provided a rough estimate of Vice President Biden’s education plan, it is important to note that the actual cost could be higher or lower than our estimates suggest, depending on the exact details of the plan.

How Would the Plan Be Paid For? 

So far, Vice President Biden has not specifically stated how he would finance the bulk of his plan. The $100 billion in new funding targeted toward improving public school buildings would be part of his broader infrastructure plan, which would be financed by closing tax loopholes that reward wealth over work, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and repealing certain business provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers, Vice President Biden said he would close some tax loopholes and limit deductions to raise revenue to pay for the rest of the plan. Since then, the campaign has released $3.2 trillion in revenue proposals (based on its own estimates), including $420 billion in revenue from limiting deductions and closing loopholes.3

Without knowing which provisions would specifically finance Vice President Biden’s preschool and K-12 education plan, we are unable to determine whether or not the plan would be offset.

Where Can I Learn More?

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With the 2020 campaign now in full gear, the presidential candidates are putting forward many ambitious proposals aimed at solving very real problems and concerns. The voting public deserves to know how much these proposals will cost and what it means for the debt we will be leaving to our children and grandchildren.

This policy explainer is part of our US Budget Watch 2020 series covering the 2020 presidential election. In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to publish analyses of candidate proposals that are having the greatest impact on the debate over our nation’s future. You can read more of our policy explainers and factchecks here


1Our estimates assume full funding of the IDEA would be phased-in over the 2021-2030 budget window. Since Vice President Biden does not specify what the phase-in of full funding would look like, we rely on the phase-in path outlined in the IDEA Full Funding Act. If the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was fully funded beginning in 2021, the additional funding would cost the federal government $200 billion through 2030.  

2We assume the cost of providing universal pre-kindergarten to all three- and four-year-olds is roughly double the cost of the Obama-era proposal to provide universal pre-kindergarten to all four-year olds. Actual costs could be higher due to less availability of existing arrangements for three-year-olds, or lower due to less demand for school at that age.

3This includes $310 billion from capping deductions for the wealthy, $70 billion from closing real estate loopholes, and $40 billion from ending fossil fuel tax breaks. It excludes capital gains changes, which are part of the Biden health care plan. All figures are based on numbers provided by the Biden campaign to Bloomberg, and we have not yet independently estimated them.