Education Spending: What Democratic Candidates Want vs. Reality, in Charts

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 27, 2019 2 min read
Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer participate during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Los Angeles.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Democratic candidates for president in 2020 are making big promises about what they’ll spend on K-12 education. In fact, four candidates have made the same pledge to triple Title I, the single-largest program for public schools at the U.S. Department of Education, which has a $72.8 billion budget. Another candidate has pledged to quadruple Title I.

But what’s less prominent is how much those areas already get in federal funding; quadrupling Title I would bring spending on that program alone to $65.2 billion. So what are those gaps between grand plans and reality?

We highlighted six Education Department programs and compared how much money they get now to how much some of the 15 Democratic presidential candidates want to give them. We focused on four top-tier candidates based on polling—former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.—and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who’s promised to dramatically increase funding for a program and who hasn’t gotten as much attention.

We singled out their promises on relatively big programs (Title I and special education) and for a relatively small program (community schools). Figures have been rounded and are in the millions of dollars.

A few thoughts:

• We don’t mean for these charts to be comprehensive and cover all the candidates’ plans. We do hope they provide a good sample of the gap between what Democrats are looking for and the numbers right now.

• Candidates don’t always make it clear whether they intend to dramatically increase funding for a particular program all in one go, or over several years. (There are obvious incentives for not making it entirely clear.) However, even if their plans are phased in, they still differ dramatically from current numbers.

See Also: Candidates & Education: A Guide for 2020

• Several candidates have said they want to fully fund special education under Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. However, Warren is one candidate at least who has put a dollar figure on what that would mean in her administration.

• A candidate who wants more money for a certain strategy might want to create a new program within the federal budget. However, the comparison may still be helpful.

• There are often several line items that together make up big-ticket federal programs. For simplicity’s sake, we stuck with the business end of those programs when making comparisons. For example, we focused on state grants within federal special education funding.

• Big promises go in the other direction too: Sanders and Warren have pledged to halt federal aid to charter school expansion. The federal Charter School Program, which exists in large part to promote the growth of charters, is getting $440 million in fiscal 2020, the same level as in fiscal 2019 despite fierce, internecine fights over charters over the past several years. That illustrates the potential difficulty in significantly cutting or eliminating those grants.

An alternative version of this article was published in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week.
A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Democratic Candidates’ K-12 Spending Priorities: Big Numbers, Heavy Lift


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Opinion How Uncle Sam Writes the Rules for Schools
Former Education Department adviser Michael Brickman explains how negotiated rule making works and why educators should pay close attention.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty