Four ways Biden’s plan for families would affect schools, children

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President Joe Biden proposed a massive package of policies Wednesday designed to reduce child poverty rates and make preschool and higher education more accessible.

The $1.8 trillion proposal, called the American Families Plan, includes at least two dozen new programs or policy shifts. And while the most ambitious elements aren’t directly connected to K-12 education, if it becomes law, the proposal has the potential to substantially alter American students’ educational journey, starting at a very young age and continuing through post-secondary education.

The package is expected to face stiff opposition from Republicans — who blanch at the tax increases proposed to pay for it — and it may also face some resistance from those on the left who say it’s not ambitious enough. But Democrats’ control of Congress means it’s possible some elements could pass without other support.

Here are four major aspects of the plan.

1. It would dramatically expand federal support for education before kindergarten and after 12th grade.

A centerpiece of Biden’s plan is offering universal preschool to all American 3- and 4-year-olds and then offering two years of community college, free to all students. In other words, he wants to tack on four years of education that are guaranteed to be paid for by the government.

Biden also wants to increase the maximum size of Pell Grants, which subsidize college education for students from low-income families, by about $1,400. The plan includes $62 billion “to invest in evidence-based strategies” for improving college completion rates, which are often lower for low-income students and students of color. It would also add a program to lower tuition for many students attending historically Black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities.

Biden argues that these investments — including $200 billion for preschool, $109 billion for community college, and $80 billion for Pell Grants — will pay off, leading to economic growth. (The costs for pre-K and community college would be shared with states — something that could become a big hurdle in places resistant to more spending.)

Research shows that financial aid and intensive support in high school and college can boost completion rates, although effective programs are quite costly. However, studies have also shown that scholarship programs that encourage students to attend schools with lower graduation rates, like community colleges, can actually reduce their chances of earning a degree.

Research also suggests that students enter kindergarten more prepared if they have attended pre-K, though there are continued debates about the long-run effects of these programs.

2. It would offer more children free meals at school and during the summer.

The plan seeks to make it more appealing for schools to opt into a federal program that allows all children in a given school to receive free meals, regardless of their family’s income. It also would lower the threshold for universal free meals in elementary schools from 40% of students whose families receive food benefits to 25%. The administration says those moves would mean free meals for more than 9 million additional students.

Research suggests that expanding access to school meals boosts student test scores, improves their health, and reduces behavioral issues.

Biden also wants to offer all low-income families direct food subsidies during the summer, by adding $25 billion to a program known as Summer EBT.

In New York City over the course of the pandemic, food needs spiked with an estimated 1 in 4 children facing hunger. No Kid Hungry New York Director Rachel Sabella said that number would be significantly higher without a combination of federal programs to feed kids — from grab and go meals offered at school sites, to expanded food benefits for families of children in public schools. She said that Biden’s proposal, which layers multiple approaches to solving child poverty and expanding access to meals, magnifies their potential impact.

“All of these benefits working together are helping families put food on the table,” she said. “One program is not going to solve hunger.”

3. It would extend anti-poverty programs for families with children.

The Biden administration wants to permanently ensure that the lowest income families are eligible for a direct payment to support their children. Previously, the Child Tax Credit excluded families who didn’t pay much or anything in federal taxes, effectively leaving out the poorest families and their children. The proposal would ensure that all low- and middle-income families with children received direct support.

Biden would also increase the size of that payment for five years. It would rise from $2,000 per child to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for older children. This would essentially extend a change included in Biden’s stimulus bill.

Research has found that children do better in schools when their families receive direct government assistance, and expanding the child tax benefit has been estimated to substantially reduce rates of child poverty, which are highest among children of color.

It’s not clear whether the plan would reduce the administrative burden of this benefit, though, which has worried some experts. Families must file taxes in order to claim it, even if they don’t owe federal taxes. That could lead to families that qualify not accessing the program, reducing its anti-poverty benefits.

4. It would try to encourage more people to become teachers.

Biden also wants to invest $9 billion “to train, equip and diversify American teachers.” The plan would double federal TEACH scholarships for prospective teachers from $4,000 to $8,000; invest $2.8 billion “grow your own” and teacher residency programs; pour $1.6 billion into helping teachers obtain additional certifications in areas like special education and bilingual education; and offer $2 billion for mentorship programs and other ideas that “leverage teachers as leaders.”

Ultimately, though, $9 billion is a small sum in the scheme of Biden’s plan and in the scope of the several hundred billions spent on education each year. That means it’s not at all clear how much of a difference these programs would make. Research has also found little or inconsistent evidence that additional credentials improve teacher quality.

The proposed initiatives don’t directly address what may be one of the biggest challenges for recruiting and retaining effective teachers, particularly in math and science: the low salaries compared to other jobs available to college graduates.

Separately, Biden has proposed more than doubling the federal Title I program, which sends money to schools serving low-income students, from $16.5 billion to $36.5 billion. Some of that money could go to increasing teacher pay.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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11 thoughts on “Four ways Biden’s plan for families would affect schools, children

    1. You bet, James! Every time that idiot opens his mouth to parrot whatever his handlers put in it, you wonder how bad this can get.

  1. All of the ideas in that speech are better investments than cutting taxes more for the wealthy! They’re also the types of investments we need to stop falling further behind the Chinese.

    1. Uh, pay attention, Wesley….the Chinese are eating our lunch.

      Bankrupting the country by saddling future generations with irresponsible debt to buy votes is hardly an answer to anything. The “investment” is so the Dumbocrats can reign forever until The United States of America joins the ash heap of history as a formerly-great world power and leader.

      See also: Spain, Italy, “Great” Britain, The Ottoman Republic, et al. (Honest, there was history from which we should / could be learning that happened before you were born.)

    2. I missed your concerns about the tax cuts the corporations used to buy their stock back, Bob. Spare me the concerns after four years of silence, we all know Republicans only care about the deficit when there is a Democratic president.

      Biden’s at least aware we have to make our own semiconductors. Fair bit better than the previous President whose plan was apparently to scare companies and counties with his Tweets. How’s that work out for all those manufacturers who now can’t make products because they can’t get chips?

      America will remain great as long as we remember immigration is what has renewed America for centuries. Maybe you should study up on that portion of history…

  2. Ah yes, the old “tax cuts for the wealthy” ignorant, envious whine.

    Here are the facts, like them or not. For the most recently detailed tax year as provided by the IRS Statistics of income, Individual Income Rates and Tax Shares [2018 unfortunately, but it is the most recent data the IRS has put out – after all, it is hard work and we don’t want to overburden those poor bureaucrats working(?) remotely and maintaining employment and full pay unlike many in the private sector…]:

    The top 1% earned 20.9 % of all Adjusted Gross Income, and paid 40.1% of all Income Taxes
    The top 5% earned 36.5% of all Adjusted Gross Income and paid 60.3% of all Income Taxes
    The top 10% earned 47.7% of all Adjusted Gross Income and paid 71.4% of all Income Taxes
    The top 25% earned 68.9% of all Adjusted Gross Income and paid 87.0% of all Income Taxes

    What exactly is a “fair share”?

    The bottom 50% earned only 11.6% of all Adjusted Gross Income, but paid an even lower 2.9% of all Income Taxes.

    In addition, again according to official IRS data, the impact of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts” (TCJA) effect in 2018 (compared to 2017) was as follows:

    The top 1% share of Adjusted Gross Income went DOWN from 21.0% in 2017 to 20.9% in 2018, yet the share of Income Taxes paid by the top 1% went UP from 38.5% to 41.0%

    For the top 5%, share of Adjusted Gross Income stayed FLAT at 36.5% from 2017 to 2018, yet the share of Income Taxes paid by the top 5% went UP from 59.1% in 2017 to 60.3% in 2018.

    Similarly, for the top 10%, share of Adjusted Gross Income stayed FLAT at 47.7% from 2017 to 2018, yet the share of Income Taxes paid by the top 10% went UP from 70.1% to 71.4%.

    And finally, for the top 25%, their share of Adjusted Gross Income went DOWN from 69.1% in 2017 to 68.9% in 2018, yet the share of Income Taxes paid by the top 25% went UP from 86.1% to 87.0%.

    Those are the facts according to the IRS (not exactly a Conservative leaning organization). So much for the notion that the TCJA was a tax cut favoring the wealthy – the data say exactly the opposite. The reality is the share of taxes paid by the top Gross Income earners went UP, and the share of taxes paid by the lower Gross Income earners went DOWN. Not that any of the teleprompter reading idiots from the mainstream media can process those kind of numbers…why let facts get in the way of a good narrative.

    1. Joe B, the truly unfortunate reality is when legislators start creating deductions to create deductions, credits, etc., whether for individuals or corporations, we step out onto the slippery slope. Some seem more justifiable (maybe even logical) than others, but I imagine it depends on whose ox is being fed and whose ox is being gored. In the end, it is the very act of legislators crafting tax legislation that creates the “pay to play” groundwork, including all the lobbying that people claim to detest. And if you don’t think there is big money in lobbying, why are the localities surrounding Washington DC some of the highest per capita income localities in the country?

      If there were no deductions, but lower tax rates that raised – in total – the exact same amount of money as currently raised through personal and corporate income taxes (I’ll avoid the arguments for now about whether we should want more or less tax monies raised in aggregate), you’d see at least three things happen. (1) Investments and life decisions would be made on the basis of the underlying economics, not influenced by arcane tax considerations, (2) Since the tax code would be much simpler, enforcement would be easier and more effective at catching cheating because there wouldn’t be all the places to hide without deductions (loopholes) that can be exploited, and (3) the loudest howling in the conversion would be from those who have, to date, been most successful at playing the lobbying (pay to play) game. An example of #3 are the high tax States that are kvetching about the new $10,000 limits on Federal deductibility of State and Local Taxes (SALT). What do State and Local taxes have to do with Federal taxing? The previous rules were a transfer from low tax States to high tax States. And, ironically, it favored the wealthy (higher income, higher property values) over the less wealthy. Going back to my earlier statistics, I don’t know why anyone in the lower 75% would even consider wanting unlimited SALT deductibility restored. Frankly, the $10K limit cost me money, but I still think limiting (or even eliminating) SALT deductibility is the right thing to do.

    2. The problem is two fold …

      Neither party cares about the deficit.

      We don’t collect enough money and we spend too much.

      I’m always perplexed … people who complain about the tax rates now when they’re nothing compared to the 1950’s to 1970’s … yet it sure seems like the economy was just fine then…

    3. Joe B, I agree with your “twofold” points, particularly the first point. On the second point, no doubt there are differing ideas on how much to increase the revenue and how much to reduce the spending. I’ll betray my inclinations by saying that when a reduction in the amount of INCREASE in government spending is described as a “cut” (versus an ACTUAL reduction in the amount spent), there is a semantic disconnect that betrays a spendthrift mentality.

      Perhaps the tax code was “just fine” in the 50’s and 60’s, but the level of “social spending” by the government was also a lot lower. LBJ’s “Great Society” and War on Poverty initiatives started a significant trend to increase government welfare [in the broadest sense of the word, not just programs described as “Welfare”, but included a variety of programs including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Medicare, Medicaid, to name just a few.

      The post WWII global economic picture was stacked very much in favor of the USA, so comparative economic comparisons are a bit difficult. China was poor and underdeveloped, Russia less so but still fairly unsophisticated, and Western Europe & Japan industrial capabilities were extensively if not nearly completely destroyed in the war. It would have been almost impossible for the US to NOT be economically dominant in that postwar global environment. As an example, look to the domestic auto industry – General Motors ALONE had as much as 50% of the US market; the big 3 combined peaked at 94%. The global context that existed in postwar 50’s and 60’s into the early 70’s no longer exists.

  3. All totally accurate. Also, the top tax rate under Reagan was halved in the name of trickle down economics which … to be frank, doesn’t really appear to have worked, not under Reagan, not under GWB, not under Trump, and certainly not in Kansas.

    My thoughts are colored by my time doing mission work in Central America … best I can tell, economically, we are heading towards a similar society. Given the need for even ice cream stores to have machine gun toting security guards, it didn’t seem all that appealing.

    Want to stave off the appeal of socialism? Rejuvenate the middle class. Given the many ways in which society has changed since the 50’s/60’s, and the move from capitalism being a three legged stool of owners/workers/customers to “shareholders uber alles, the rest are on their own” during that time, I think it’s inevitable the government will have a larger role, be it via regulation, additions to the social safety net, or both.