Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled his education plan in a speech Saturday in South Carolina, calling for a ban on for-profit charter schools, an increase in teacher pay to no less than $60,000, and universal school meals.
The release of the policy proposal, which the campaign refers to as the “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education & Educators,” is pegged to the 65th anniversary weekend of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which desegregated public schools.
In addition to calling for a ban on for-profit charters, Sanders became the first 2020 presidential candidate to pledge support for the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on public funding for charter-school expansion until a national audit can be done to ascertain the impact of charter growth. The original intent of charters was positive, especially to serve students with unique needs, but, according to Sanders, they have negatively impacted communities of color by taking away money from public schools.
The senator’s plan included a number of reforms to existing charter-school regulations: Requiring charters to comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools; mandating that at least half of all charter boards are composed of teachers and parents; disclosing student attrition rates, non-public funding sources, financial interests and other relevant data; supporting efforts for charter-school teachers to unionize; and matching employment practices at charters with other district schools, including restrictions to CEO pay.
“Every child has a right to a quality K-12 education, regardless of your race, regardless of your income, and regardless of your zip code,” Sanders said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “For too long, we have seen devastating education funding cuts used to pay for massive tax breaks for a handful of corporations and billionaires. When we are in the White House, that greed is going to end. We will make a transformative investment in our children, our teachers and our schools to guarantee a quality education as a human right for all children.”
Among the other planks of Sanders’ education plan is an effort to combat racial discrimination and school segregation. Sanders will call for a tripling in Title I funding for high-poverty schools, establishing a fund to create and expand teacher-training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and increased funding for public magnet schools to $1 billion annually.
The senator also proposed setting a minimum starting salary for teachers at no less than $60,000 (with an allowance for states to go beyond that) while creating a new grant program that gives teachers funds for classroom supplies and expanding a tax credit to cover out-of-pocket classroom expenses.
Additionally, the Vermont senator called for spending $5 billion annually to expand access for after-school programs, provide year-round free universal school meals, and pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act to protect LGBTQ students.
A number of the 2020 Democratic candidates, including Sanders, have made direct appeals to educators and participated in town halls with the American Federation of Teachers, as part of their endorsement process.
Some of Sanders’ fellow 2020 candidates have also put forth comprehensive education platforms: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called for universal early education and student-debt cancellation; Julián Castro's plan included universal pre-K; and Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) proposed raising teacher pay by an average of $13,500.