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Biden-Sanders Task Force: Pay Teachers More, Treat Them Like Frontline Workers

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 08, 2020 3 min read
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A joint task force convened by former rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination say that educators should not only be paid more, but should get new, temporary emergency protections so that they can be treated like frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, the set of recommendations from the “unity” task force convened by former Vice President Joe Biden—the presumptive nominee—and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pledge that Democrats will push states to adopt “progressive” funding formulas to help close K-12 spending gaps between mostly white and mostly nonwhite districts; revive Obama-era guidance about racial disparities in student discipline and transgender students; and support universal early-childhood education and gun-free schools, among other major promises.

The recommendations, released by the Biden campaign on Wednesday, are intended to form the basis of the Democratic Party’s official platform for 2020. Biden and Sanders announced the creation of the task force in mid-May. The task force’s members who developed its recommendations for education include National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

In several ways, the platform’s recommendations for education reflect what many Democratic presidential candidates called for during the campaign. The task force says Democrats will triple current Title I funding for disadvantaged students, a staple of 2020 rhetoric among Democrats, and also says Democrats will “fully fund” the federal law for students with disabilities. (That means the federal government would provide 40 percent of the additional cost of educating students in special education, an obligation Washington has yet to meet.)

The task force also takes into account the pandemic. It says that educators “have always been heroes” who should be paid more and receive more benefits, and that while distance learning has been forced to be a stop-gap solution, “There is no sustainable, long-term substitute for high-quality, in-classroom learning.” In addition, the group says Democrats will “direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop an emergency temporary standard to protect frontline workers, including educators, from COVID-19.”

Here are a few other tidbits from the recommendations:

  • In addition to banning for-profit charter schools (something that’s a state prerogative and not within the federal government’s power), the task force says Democrats will call for requiring that federal aid for expanding charter schools be conditioned on district-led reviews of “whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students.” Putting that kind of power over charters in the hands of local school districts would no doubt upset many charter advocates. The group also recommends a federal review of charter schools and new “reforms” about parent and community participation in charters’ “governance, accountability, and transparency.”
  • The task force not only opposes voucher programs in general, but specifically calls for the end of the voucher program in the District of Columbia, the only federally funded voucher program in the country. That program has been authorized and funded by Congress in Democratic as well as Republican administrations.
  • The document says Democrats will “reinstate Department of Education guidance on transgender students’ Title IX rights, which was revoked by the Trump Administration, and clarify that federal civil rights law prohibits anti-LGBTQ+ rules.” It also says they “support reissuing federal guidance to reduce the disparate disciplinary treatment of students of color in school and educational settings.” Both Obama-era initiatives the group refers to here were controversial when they were unveiled and were subsequently rescinded by the Trump administration.
  • “Democrats will work to end the use of ... high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement,” the group says. The requirement for annual standardized tests in certain subjects is mandated by federal law, although the extent to which tests carry consequences for schools and educators depends on a mix of federal requirements and state-level decisions.

This article has been corrected to reflect the members of the education task force.

Photo: Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, greet one another before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in March 2020.

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