IOWA CAUCUS 2020

Countdown to caucuses: Democrats debate free college, pitch plans to address student loan debt

The Old Capitol is seen in May 2017 on the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City. Some of the sharpest disagreement
The Old Capitol is seen in May 2017 on the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City. Some of the sharpest disagreements on education policy in the 2020 Democratic primary have centered on higher education. (The Gazette)

Support for public education measures runs rampant through the expansive Democratic presidential primary field.

The candidates have introduced a wide array of policy proposals designed to show their support for public schools, K-through-12 and beyond.

One consistent point of agreement among the candidates is the need to install a federal education secretary with public school experience. It is a virtually automatic and vociferous applause line each time a Democratic presidential candidate on the campaign trail pledges to appoint a secretary unlike current Secretary Betsy DeVos, a staunch supporter of school choice and voucher programs that public education advocates say take resources away from public schools.

Some candidates have proposed ways to boost teacher pay in K-12 schools and provide free access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

But some of the sharpest disagreements relate to post-high school education.

Like the Medicare-for-all debate in health care, tuition-free college provides a dividing line among the Democratic candidates. But all proposals are aimed at a pair of flash points for college students and their families: the rising cost of tuition and ballooning student loan debt.

The cost of tuition has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and student loan debt, at $1.6 trillion, has exceeded car loan and credit card debt in the U.S.

Some, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are proposing tuition-free college for all and eliminating student loan debt.

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Others have proposed more modest steps. Joe Biden, for example, has pitched tuition-free two-year community college, while Pete Buttigieg has proposed making tuition free just for students from low-income families.

The candidates also have proposed various ways to support technical training and apprenticeship programs as businesses search for workers at a time of low unemployment in Iowa and across the country.

Joe Biden

• Education priority is to make two-year community college tuition-free.

• Double Pell Grants from $6,000 to $12,000.

• Raise teachers’ salaries.

• Increase federal funding for public schools.

• Staff schools with more social workers.

Pete Buttigieg

• “Free college for those who need it,” or free public school tuition for families earning less than $100,000.

• $120 billion will be added to the Pell Grant program.

• Students who serve 10 years in government or nonprofits will have their debts fully canceled. Debts also will be canceled for “borrowers who attended unaffordable for-profit programs.”

• $700 billion invested in universal full-day child care and pre-K for all children under 5.

• Triple the funding for Title I schools, or schools with high proportions of low-income students. Schools will be required to use the new funds to close the teacher salary gap.

• For-profit charter schools will be banned.

• The campaign puts a price tag of $425 billion over 10 years on the K-12 plan, which would be funded through a variety of existing streams and through increases of capital gains tax, as well as a repeal of Trump’s corporate tax cuts.

Amy Klobuchar

• Increase teacher pay

• Increase federal funding for public schools. Klobuchar’s “Progress Partnerships” plan is a partnership between federal and state governments that will provide more funding and additional resources.

• Boost STEM education.

• Provide funding for to repair infrastructure in public schools.

• Tuition-free one- and two-year community college degrees and technical certifications; more apprenticeship opportunities.

Bernie Sanders

• Provide free tuition for all public colleges, universities and trade schools.

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• Cancel all student loan debt for the 45 million Americans who owe about $1.6 trillion. Place a cap on student loan interest rates going forward at 1.88 percent.

• Invest $1.3 billion every year in private, nonprofit historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

• Set teachers’ salaries starting at $60,000, expand collective bargaining rights, teacher tenure and provide funding for out-of-pocket expenses like classroom materials.

• Give all students free school meals with locally sourced food.

• Rebuild, modernize and “green” all schools.

Elizabeth Warren

• Quadruple Title I funding for schools with high proportions of low-income students, for an extra $450 billion over a decade.

• Prohibit the use of standardized testing as a “primary or significant factor” in making any “high-stakes decisions,” such as closing a school or firing a teacher.

• Cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for each of more than 42 million Americans.

• Free two- and four-year public colleges, funded by her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” on the wealth of families with $50 million or more.

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