Education Policy Update

September 14, 2020

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Overview of Presidential Nominees’ Policies

The 2020 presidential campaign season is in full swing. The Democratic National Convention concluded on August 20 with former Vice President Joe Biden officially accepting his party’s nomination for president and Senator Kamala Harris accepting the nomination for vice president. A week later on August 27, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence accepted the accepted the Republican nomination for president and vice president, respectively.

Ahead of the Republican Convention, President Trump outlined a broad agenda for his second term in office. His education plan highlights two key goals: school choice and teaching “American exceptionalism.” Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has released more detailed policy plans. His education plan includes supporting teachers, investing in schools and students, addressing inequities, ensuring career readiness, and investing in early childhood education. 





President Trump said if he is elected to a second term, “education is going to be a big factor.” In a broad plan that outlined the president’s second term agenda, President Trump highlighted school choice and teaching “American exceptionalism.” The GOP 2016 platform defines American exceptionalism as “the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world.”  While Trump’s plan does not go in to detail on these two priorities, he has previously called on Congress to pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, which would create a $5 billion annual tax credit for individuals and businesses for donating to scholarship funds.

While not explicitly part of his second term agenda, President Trump’s FY 2021 budget proposal provides insight on the president’s education priorities. These priorities include reducing the federal role in education, growing career and technical education (CTE) programs, and making changes to the student loan program. For example, the president’s FY2021 budget proposal creates the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged (ESED) block grant program by consolidating funding for 29 education programs (and $24 billion in spending) into one $19 billion block grant. Additionally, the budget proposal would eliminate the public student loan forgiveness program, cap the amount of money graduate students and parents can borrow, and expand Pell Grants to people in prison pursuing higher education degrees.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has released a more detailed education plan that includes 5 key pillars: 1) supporting teachers, 2) investing in schools and the emotional wellbeing of students, 3) addressing inequities, 4) ensuring career readiness, and 5) investing in early childhood education. Biden’s entire education plan can be found here, but highlights include:

  • Tripling Title I funding to increase teacher pay, provide universal pre-k, and allow districts to make other critical investments at their discretion.
  • Ensuring the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program helps teachers
  • Recruiting more teachers of color
  • Increasing the number of school mental health professionals “to double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals employed in our schools”
  • Expanding wrap-around services in schools
  • Passing federal infrastructure legislation to fund improvements for school buildings
  • Reinstating Department of Education guidance that “supported schools in legally pursuing desegregation strategies”
  • Fully funding the Disabilities Education Act
  • Investing in vocational training and allowing Pell grants to be used for dual enrollment programs
  • Providing funding for an early childhood development expert at every community health center and providing funding for more home visits

Workforce Development

President Trump’s broad agenda is focused on creating new jobs rather than workforce development, but his FY2021 budget proposal commits funding to both apprenticeships and CTE. The budget proposal would invest $160 million in apprenticeships. It states that apprenticeships are “a proven earn-while-you-learn strategy that equips workers with the skills they need to fill open, high-paying jobs.” The budget would also increase H-1B fee revenues in order to fund additional apprenticeship activities. Trump’s budget includes $1.3 billion for CTE grants and $20 million for CTE National Programs “to support quality STEM and coding-focused CTE programs.”


Former Vice President Biden’s workforce development plan in large part focuses on community colleges and “high-quality training programs.” Biden has called for free community college or other high-quality training programs to ensure individuals can “learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing nature of work.” His plan also entails providing grants to community colleges to improve students’ success and investing $50 billion in workforce training, including “community-college business partnerships and apprenticeships.” If elected, Biden will provide grants to states to create “seamless pathways between high school, job training, community college, and four-year programs to help students get their degrees and credentials faster.”

Health Care

President Trump’s second term health care agenda includes cutting prescription drug prices, which has been a top priority for the President. In fact, in July 2020, President Trump signed four executive orders aimed at reducing prescription drug costs for Americans. The executive orders aim to ease drug importation restrictions, provide discounts on insulin, require pharmaceutical benefits managers (PBMs) to pass discounts on to patients, and require Medicare to tie drug prices to what other countries are paying, known as the most favored nation rule. These orders will likely not take effect in the near-term as some will have to go through the federal rule-making process, and the most favored nation rule has a delayed implementation to allow the industry to offer a counterproposal. The industry offered a counterproposal on August 25, but on September 13, President Trump signed a new executive order that repealed the original order and expanded the drugs included on the list. This new executive order will also have to go through the rule-making process. While it might be some time before American see the effect of these orders, they emphasize how important this issue is to President Trump.

Other priorities for the Trump Campaign include: lowering insurance premiums, ending surprise billing, and covering pre-existing conditions. Trump’s second term agenda also calls to “protect Social Security and Medicare” and to “protect our Veterans and provide world-class healthcare and services.”

Former Vice President Biden’s healthcare plan focuses on building off of the Affordable Care Act. Biden has outlined that he will provide a new choice for public health insurance, similar to Medicare. He will also expand insurance coverage by automatically enrolling individuals making below 138% of the federal poverty level when they interact with certain programs (i.e. school, SNAP, etc). Biden’s plan also addresses health insurance for the middle class. His plan will provide a tax credit to middle class families to help pay for insurance.

Similar to the Trump Campaign’s priorities, Biden said he will stop surprise billing and lower prescription drug prices. However, absent from Trump’s agenda, but included in Biden’s priorities is a focus on health care “for all,” which includes actions such as expanding access to contraception, restoring funding for Planned Parenthood, reducing the maternal mortality rate, and expanding access to mental healthcare to name a few. 




Status of State Legislative Sessions and Budgets

Most state legislatures have resumed and adjourned their sessions after suspending due to the coronavirus. The states that are still in regular session include: Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont. Many states have either had a special session or plan to hold a special session to address budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus. Most recently, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, and Tennessee held special sessions in July and August. Currently, Virginia is in a special session.

State-by-State Chart

Status of State Legislative Sessions

status of state legislative sessions

Status of StateBudgets

status of state budgets