Elizabeth Warren’s K-12 Plan Spotlights Funding, Charters

By Andrew Ujifusa & Evie Blad — October 29, 2019 5 min read
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., waves to supporters at the SEIU Unions For All Summit on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Los Angeles.

Massachusetts senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed a K-12 education plan that includes $450 billion in new federal aid over 10 years to disadvantaged students, increasing special education aid by $20 billion a year, and launching a crackdown on charter school expansions and so-called “for-profit” charters.

In addition, she would direct billions of dollars a year in federal money to promote public school integration, and aim to help 25,000 public schools transition to the community schools model, which provides health and other wraparound services to help students and their communities.

She also wants to eliminate “high-stakes testing” and authorize a new legal requirement that teachers can organize and collectively bargain in every state.

In “A Great Public School Education for Every Student” that her campaign released last week, Warren also reiterated her previous pledge to appoint a person with public school teaching experience to be education secretary. She also wants to end federal funding for charter school expansion, and to allow only local school districts to authorize charter schools.

Political Lift

Warren’s plan would require huge changes in how the U.S. Department of Education does business. Lawmakers would have to agree to revise several key elements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. It also sends a clear signal to Democratic voters and key power players in the party, especially the teachers’ unions, that Warren is all in for traditional public schools. Warren says she’d pay for her plan through a new two-cent wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million.

“As public school teachers across the country know, our schools do not have the financial resources they need to deliver a quality public education for every child,” Warren said in a statement accompanying the plan.

In proposing a four-fold increase in Title I aid for disadvantaged schools, Warren is upping the ante on two of her top primary rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Vice President Joe Biden. Both of them have proposed tripling Title I funding. To put it all in perspective, 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.

See Also: Education in the 2020 Presidential Race

But Warren wants to do more on Title I than just give it more money. The plan says she is “committed to working with public education leaders and school finance experts to improve the way the federal government allocates this new Title I funding.” The four formulas that dictate Title I spending have long been scrutinized by everyone from school administrators to the federal government itself. One of the main concerns is that the funding in many cases does not actually reach the students it’s intended for. Warren also wants more transparency around Title I spending.

Warren’s call for more special education funding touches on a long-standing sore spot: For decades, despite a requirement for the federal government to pay for 40 percent of the additional costs of providing special education to students, Congress has not done so.

Charter schools would be a big loser under Warren’s plan, just like in the education plan proposed by Sanders. In addition to cutting off the federal funding for charter expansion that’s provided in Charter School Program grants, Warren wants a ban on “for-profit” charter schools, a reference to some charters that work with for-profit organizations to help manage schools.

Making those proposals a reality, however, would be a tall order. Some charter critics say arrangements in which for-profit companies that help manage charters make those schools “for-profit.” Roughly 15 percent of charters are managed that way, charter advocates say, and it’s been left up to states to determine such arrangements.

In a sign of how aggressive she wants federal oversight of charters to be, Warren said she would have the Internal Revenue Service target “nonprofit schools” (meaning charters) that she says are violating federal statutes for nonprofits.

Civil Rights Issues

Her plan also calls for expanding states’ and districts’ ability to use Title I funds for local integration efforts.

And she would address neighborhood segregation through a down-payment assistance program for residents of historically redlined areas (neighborhoods in which people have been denied services, such as bank loans, on the basis of race) and a $10 billion competitive program states and cities could use to build parks, roads, and schools in exchange for eliminating “the kinds of restrictive zoning laws that can further racial segregation.”

To address racial discrimination in schools, Warren wants to expand the ability of students and families to sue schools for racial discrimination if policies disparately impact students of color, not just for instances of intentional discrimination.

She would beef up the Education Department’s office for civil rights and instruct federal investigators to crack down on school policies and practices that disproportionately affect students of color.

Like other Democratic candidates, Warren pledges to restore guidance on the rights of transgender students that the Trump administration rescinded. Her civil rights promises also extend to immigrant students, English-language learners, and those with disabilities.

Collective Bargaining Power

In the teacher arena, Warren reiterates her previously stated pledge to boost teacher pay—which is largely set at the state and local levels—by encouraging states to better fund teacher pay through their funding formulas.

And she calls for the enactment of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2019, which she has co-sponsored. That bill would assert the right of all public employees to collective bargaining.

Warren’s plan says an additional $50 billion in federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions and plans to forgive student debt will help a broad swath of teachers and also serve to promote diversity in the profession, which is largely white.

Two responses to Warren’s plan sum up the views of both its supporters and its critics.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten hailed the blueprint, calling it “a stark reversal of years of austerity and failed quick-fix reforms,” and said it represented the kind of ideals behind the current Chicago teachers’ strike.

The teachers’ union president said Warren’s plan is focused on both children and “on providing educators the voice and supports they need as professionals to help their students learn and thrive.”

But Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said Warren’s plan would “starve” charter schools of funding and “destroy the dreams of a quality education for the families who need it most.”

“Elizabeth Warren’s unfortunate rejection of the Obama legacy on public charter schools is fundamentally at odds with her party,” Wilkins said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 30, 2019 edition of Education Week as Elizabeth Warren’s K-12 Plan Spotlights Funding, Charters


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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
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.
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
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.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

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 How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP
Federal 'Stop CRT' Bill, Votes in Congress Add to Political Drama Over Critical Race Theory
Sen. Tom Cotton's legislation and votes about critical race theory in the House underscore the issue's potency in Washington.
5 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 25 in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP