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Joe Biden, Gun-Free School Zones Champion, Busing Critic, Is Running for President

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 25, 2019 2 min read
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Former Vice President Joe Biden, a fan of the No Child Left Behind Act in its early days who later soured on the landmark federal education law, is the latest Democrat to announce that he is running for president in 2020.

Biden, who served as Delaware’s senator for 36 years prior to joining President Barack Obama’s White House in 2009, has a K-12 record that touches on several issues, although he never made education policy one of his signature issues during his tenure in Washington.

During his time serving in the White House with President Barack Obama, Biden was the administration’s point man for its response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That response ultimately included a push to spend $150 million in support of new school safety plans and hiring school resource officers, as well as $100 million in additional spending on mental-health measures.

Biden also focused on school safety during his time in the Senate, when he was the key author of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which prohibited knowingly possessing and discharging a firearm on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of a school, with certain exceptions. (In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump declared that the law merely turned schools into “bait” for violent criminals.)

Earlier in his tenure as vice president, Biden oversaw spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus. At the time, he warned that schools should avoid spending $100 billion in stimulus cash on things like swimming pools.

But it’s Biden’s views about race and education from several decades ago that have reemerged in headlines recently. The Washington Post recently highlighted Biden’s opposition to busing as a means to promote school integration during the 1970s. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation,” Biden said in 1975. “And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.” A spokesman for Biden told the Post the former vice president stands by his position on busing but stressed Biden’s other work on civil rights including his push to desegregate a Delaware movie theater.

‘You Need Better Teachers’

Back in 2001 as a senator, Biden supported the bill that became the No Child Left Behind Act. But as the presumptive vice presidential nominee, he switched views; in 2008, Biden said the law “doesn’t work.” When the bill was moving through Congress, he said he backed NCLB because of his faith in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

“I would scrap it—or I guess, theoretically, you could do a major overhaul. But I think I’d start from the beginning,” Biden said. “You need better teachers. You need smaller classrooms. You need to start kids earlier. It’s all basic.”

Earlier in 2008, when he was still a candidate for president, Biden supported providing free preschool to all children, as well as bonuses for teachers who worked in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

His wife, Jill Biden, was a high school teacher and has also taught at Northern Virginia Community College and advocated for the role of community colleges during the Obama administration.

Photo: Former Vice President Joe Biden talks with supporters during a campaign rally for Pennsylvania Democratic candidates for Congress last year. (Butch Comegys/The Times-Tribune via AP)

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