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Amid Black Voter Outreach, Pete Buttigieg Releases Equity Focused Education Plan

By Evie Blad — December 07, 2019 7 min read
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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg released a K-12 education plan Saturday that calls for tripling federal Title I funding for students in poverty, a $700 billion child-care and early-education program, an emphasis on wraparound student services, and several initiatives that aim to promote school integration.

The plan comes as the South Bend, Ind., mayor makes efforts to strengthen his appeal with black voters, a group for which polls show him lagging other candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, including former Vice President Joe Biden. In recent weeks, he has appeared at events with black supporters and held special events to discuss racial and socioeconomic inequality.

The mayor faced a flood of emotional responses recently when a 2011 video surfaced in which he says a lot of poor and minority kids “need to see evidence that education is going to work for them” and don’t know anyone who “testifies to the value of education,” seeming to overlook systemic factors that affect students of color, some critics said. In response to those criticisms, Buttigieg said his previous comments, which came up in a conversation about mentorship, didn’t reflect “the totality of my understanding” about “the obstacles that students of color face in our system today.”

His education plan seeks to address many of those issues, including measures to promote teacher diversity and funding disparities and efforts targeted to the needs of native students and English-language learners.

“Far from putting our kids on a level playing field, America’s education system takes already vast disparities and makes them worse,” Buttigieg’s plan says. “Some public schools give 1st graders iPads on the first day, others are struggling to afford textbooks.”

The plan includes some common elements of those proposed by some of his opponents, including a ban on “for-profit charter schools” and a focus on raising teacher pay.

A unique element in Buttigieg’s plan: a proposed federal preclearance process that would require “consideration of racial and socioeconomic integration as part of any major district boundary change.” Groups like the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, have promoted such policies to avoid exacerbating racial segregation or funding inequalities when districts move their borders or splinter off into separate school systems.

“When district boundaries are redrawn, and in particular when a small, affluent community fences itself off, those on the fortunate side of the line can keep their tax revenues just for their hyperlocal schools,” said EdBuild, an organization in a 2017 report on school district “secessions” that has since been updated with additional data.

Tripling Title I

To further address discrepancies in local funding levels, Buttigieg would target his increased Title I funds to states and districts “that implement equitable education funding formulas to provide more state and local resources to low-income schools.” Similar to Biden’s plan, Buttigieg would also require districts receiving Title I funding above current levels to pay teachers comparable salaries to other jobs in their area “that require similar education and training,” and to target new resources to improved curriculum and student supports.

Buttigieg joins Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in calling for tripled Title I funds, which are targeted to schools with high enrollments of students from low-income households. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed quadrupling the grant funding.

As we’ve written previously, getting a green light from Congress for such a big federal spending increase may be difficult. Title I will get about $16 billion this year; a spending bill passed by House Democrats last spring would increase that by $1 billion, or 6.9 percent. Buttigieg also calls for a new $500 million fund to incentivize community-led school integration efforts, and tripling the Every Student Succeeds Act’s Title IV Student Success and Academic Enrichment Grants to about $3.5 billion a year. He proposes paying for his plans by modifying the tax code to reverse Trump-era cuts to the corporate tax rate, increasing capital gains taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers, and stepping up enforcement of tax laws for corporations and the rich.

His proposals to tie new strings to Title I funding would require modifying the federal law, which could also prove to be difficult, especially if Congress remains divided.

In addition to his funding plans, Buttigieg says he would promote equity in schools through more aggressive and systemic civil rights enforcement and by reinstating Obama-era guidance on voluntary school integration efforts, responding to sexual violence, and racial equity in school discipline.

The discipline guidance, rescinded by the Trump administration, was supported by civil rights groups concerned by disproportionately high rates of discipline for students of color. But conservatives said the directive represented federal overreach and led schools to drive down discipline numbers without adequately addressing misbehavior.

Buttigieg Joins Criticism of Charter Schools

Buttigieg joins Warren and Sanders in proposing measures to rein in charter schools, which have been a divisive issue in the Democratic primary. Other candidates, like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, have been more supportive of the publicly funded, independently operated schools.

“Pete’s priority is strengthening and investing in public schools to ensure that they have the capacity to best serve students,” the plan says. “Because the profit motive distorts priorities in K-12 education, Pete will ban for-profit charter schools.”

“For-profit charters” generally refers to charter schools that contract with for-profit entities for management purposes. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that fewer than 15 percent of the nation’s 7,000 charter schools meet that definition. As we’ve written previously, charter schools are largely governed by state and local policies, making it difficult to implement blanket charter policies on a federal level.

Buttigieg also pledges to “promote comparable levels of accountability and transparency between charter and traditional public schools,” by requiring states to report annually on charter authorizers, holding low performers accountable. His plan does not address the federal Charter School Program, which Warren wants to eliminate.

Warren recently faced a flood of criticism when school choice supporters revealed that her son attended a private school for part of his education. (she had previously said only that her children attended public schools). Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, do not have children. He attended private schools as a child, Education Week reported in this May story.

Teacher Issues

Buttigieg’s education plan resurfaces one of his previous racial justice proposals: requiring states to provide data on teacher hiring and recruiting practices to promote diversity in the educator workforce, something we previously explored. And, in an idea echoed in his labor plan, he calls for protections for employee organizing and teachers’ unions.

He calls for the creation of an Education Access Corps, through which a “select group of high-quality collegiate teacher preparation programs,” including those at Minority Serving Institutions like Historically Black Colleges and Universities, will train educators who will “commit to teach in a Title I school and receive a portable teaching license that qualifies them to teach in any state.” Their tuition would be covered through a deferred loan that would be forgiven after seven years of teaching in a high-poverty school, the plan says.

Early-Childhood Education

Buttigieg’s plan calls for increased federal funding for research about early-childhood development, universal access to child care and prekindergarten programs, and a $10 billion federal fund to promote equity in early learning.

“Under Pete’s plan, no family will have to pay more than seven percent of their income in early learning costs, and families earning below median income will pay between zero and three percent of income —dramatically reducing current spending that often exceeds 20 percent of income,” the plan says. “Families in poverty will have fully subsidized care. This means an average savings of over $10,000 per child per year for those families making below median income, and significantly reduced costs for all families.”

Bonus! Buttigieg spoke to Education Week about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, accountability, and the federal role in education in an August interview.

Double Bonus! You can quickly get up to speed on all of the presidential candidates’ views with our tracker: Education in the 2020 Presidential Race.

Photo: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a Veteran’s and Mental Health Town Hall event in Manchester, N.H., in August. --Mary Schwalm/AP

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