Elizabeth Warren’s K-12 education plan would quadruple Title I funds, nix federal support for charters

Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her long-awaited K-12 education plan on Monday, calling for a massive boost in federal spending on public schools, a bigger federal effort to confront school segregation, and an end to federal support for charter school growth.

At nearly 7,400 words, Warren’s plan is the longest and most detailed collection of K-12 education proposals put forward by any of the major Democratic candidates for president. Like many of her fellow candidates, she says she would roll back changes made by the Trump administration and offers proposals likely to be popular with teachers — like encouraging states to raise teacher pay — that she argues would also help high-need students.

“I believe that every kid in America should have the same access to a high-quality public education — no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make,” Warren says.

The plan also makes clear that the Massachusetts senator’s outlook has continued to shift on a few key education issues that attracted a level of bipartisan support during the Obama administration but that many Democrats have since turned from: standardized testing and charter schools.

Warren pushed hard in 2015 for test scores to be a key component of how schools are judged under the country’s main K-12 education law, saying standardized tests were important for understanding how schools were serving students of color and students from low-income families — and her campaign says she still believes this. But her comments on tests have been more critical recently, saying at a teachers union forum in June: “We do not need high-stakes testing.”

Her education plan doubles down on that language, saying she would “push to prohibit the use of standardized testing as a primary or significant factor” in decisions about schools and teachers. A campaign spokesperson says she would use federal incentives to push states to use more “authentic” assessments.

The leaders of the country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, both praised the plan.

“Like so many of the other candidates’ education plans we have praised, this one is bold and thorough and lays out tangible steps and resources that are critical for all students to thrive,” the AFT’s president Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

You can find Warren’s full plan here. Here are three notable elements.

More federal spending on education

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden both say they would triple spending on Title I, the pot of federal money that goes to schools that serve students from low-income families. Warren goes further, saying she would quadruple Title I spending to $450 billion over a decade.

To get this additional money, Warren says states would have to promise to increase their own education spending and adopt funding formulas that send more money to school districts serving low-income students.

Warren also wants to send more federal dollars to states and districts to help students with disabilities — $20 billion more each year for federal IDEA grants.

Separately, Warren would start another open-ended grant program for schools. That “Excellence in Education” program would offer $100 billion over 10 years for schools that want to do things like fund after-school art programs, pay for mentoring programs, or upgrade labs.

This money could help turn some 25,000 public schools into “community schools” that offer wraparound support to students and families by 2030, she said. Warren said she would also spend an additional $50 billion on school infrastructure, which includes fixing crumbling buildings, abating lead, and expanding access to high-speed Internet.

No federal support for charter schools

Warren would end the federal Charter Schools Program, which has given out more than $3 billion since it began in 1995 and served as a key driver of charter school expansion. Earlier this year, for example, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the KIPP charter network $87 million to create 52 schools and the IDEA network $116 million to continue its rapid growth. (A Warren campaign spokesperson said she would permit current grants to expire on their expected timeline.)

Sanders has put forward a similar proposal to end public funding for new charter schools.

Warren also said she’d seek to “ban” for-profit charter schools and nonprofit charter schools that outsource their operations to for-profit companies, something the federal government doesn’t have much authority over.

In the past, Warren has praised Boston’s charter schools, attributing their success to the stricter oversight and accountability rules in her home state. She did oppose a Massachusetts ballot measure in 2016 that would have lifted the cap on charter schools in the state, saying she was concerned about charters’ financial impact on school districts — and she draws attention to that opposition in the plan. (Recent research has shown that charter schools do cost school districts, though districts can recover by cutting costs over time.)

“To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools,” the Warren plan says.

Charter advocates weren’t pleased with the plan, highlighting divides within the Democratic party on the issue.

“Elizabeth Warren’s plan to starve charter schools of funding would destroy the dreams of a quality education for the families who need it most,” Amy Wilkins of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said in a statement.

A greater focus on school desegregation

Warren’s plan includes a slate of proposals to encourage school desegregation, something that has gotten little attention at the federal level for years, including under President Obama.

Warren’s plan explicitly identifies integration as a school improvement strategy, saying she would would encourage states to spend Title I money set aside to help low-performing schools “on integration efforts of their own design.”

“All told, that will add up to billions of dollars a year that states can use to promote residential and public school integration, including through the use of public magnet schools,” the plan says.

Warren also says she would continue to provide Title I funding to schools that have successfully integrated and fallen below the federal threshold to receive money for low-income students — something that’s been a problem in places like New York City. But it’s unclear how exactly this proposal would work.

A campaign spokesperson said Warren would also reissue the 2011 guidance from the Obama administration that gave schools direction on how to voluntarily integrate schools, which was rescinded by the Trump administration.

Warren said she would push to expand federal civil rights legislation so that students and parents could challenge school segregation in court by claiming “disparate impact” discrimination — when one group is adversely affected by a policy. (This idea resembles a House bill introduced earlier this year and is sponsored by the chair of the House’s education committee.) Warren also said she’d push to give the Department of Justice the power to file and investigate those claims.

Taking note of the trend of whiter and wealthier parts of school districts seceding to form their own districts, Warren said so-called “breakaway districts” would face added scrutiny and possible enforcement actions from her departments of education and justice.

She also said she would increase funding to make civil rights data collection faster and more expansive. And she said she would only appoint federal judges who’ve committed to upholding Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that outlawed school segregation.

Many of Warren’s ideas for tackling school segregation also involve combatting residential segregation — a significant challenge.

“The first step toward integrating our schools is integrating our communities,” the plan states.

As part of her housing plan, Warren has proposed a $10 billion grant program that would encourage cities to remove restrictive zoning laws and provide home-buying assistance to families who used to live in communities where real estate agents wouldn’t provide mortgages, often because many low-income black families lived there.