Former Vice President Joe Biden, who last week made his entrance into a crowded Democratic field of 2020 presidential candidates, has a K-12 record that touches on several issues, although he never made education policy one of his signature issues during his lengthy tenure in Washington.
Biden, who served as Delaware’s senator for 36 years prior to joining President Barack Obama’s White House in 2009, was a fan of the No Child Left Behind Act in its early days but later soured on the landmark federal education law.
During his time as vice president, Biden was the Obama administration’s point man for its response to the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That response ultimately included a push to spend $150 million on crafting 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 Biden’s views about race and education from several decades ago have also re-emerged in headlines. The Washington Post in March 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.
Soured on NCLB
Back in 2001, when he was 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, who was one of the key architects of the law.
“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 is now a professor at Northern Virginia Community College and championed the role of community colleges during the Obama administration.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2019 edition of Education Week as Biden Has K-12 Record as Senator, VP