Trump, Biden, and public education

by Carol Kocivar | July 10, 2024 | 1 Comment
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A great divide: Public education vs private

In the presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, education didn’t come up even once, as EdWeek has noted. It’s an astonishing omission because the candidates have deep philosophical differences about education in America. These differences can change not only how schools are funded but how important topics are taught. At stake is what our children learn about democracy as well as about their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

This post reviews the differences between the candidates on education based on their records as well as their stated intentions. In a nutshell, Biden’s record and campaign statements point to incremental change and increased support for traditional public schools. Trump’s record and campaign statements point to reduced funding for public education along with programs to subsidize private and religious education.

Trump's View

Biden's View

"School Choice, Vouchers, Private Schools, Freedom, and Patriotism" are words Trump chooses to define his view of education.

“Support Teachers, Respect, and Invest" are words that Biden chooses to define his view of education.

Budgets are statements of values

Leaders should be evaluated not only on what they say. The real test is where they put money. Budgets express values. The records of former president Trump and President Biden reflect dramatic differences.

The president proposes and the legislature disposes

Each year the President proposes an education budget. After much wrangling, the legislature adopts a budget.

President Trump. In every year of his administration, he proposed cuts to funding for public education. Click each year below to see what was proposed and what was finally enacted.

President Biden. The Biden administration proposed large funding increases for public education. Click each year below to see what was proposed and what was finally enacted.

The chart below contrasts the significant differences between former president Trump and President Biden in terms of resources for the US Department of Education.

Background: the federal role in education

The role of the federal government in public education has evolved over time.

The United States Constitution makes no mention of education. Public education in America began as a local matter and gradually became a responsibility of state governments. Federal funds have generally accounted for less than 10 percent of overall funding for K-12 education, though they play a somewhat larger role in schools where needs are greatest. Political philosophies can influence how funds are used.

Federal funding for K-12 includes targeted support for:

Some federal programs have been designed to create incentives for states and districts to adopt specific policies. For example, federal incentives implemented under the No Child Left Behind Act played an important role in the widespread measurement of success in school systems using test scores and measurements of attendance.

2025 presidential plans: The past is prologue

Both candidates are doubling down on their records. President Biden continues to support greater investments in education, especially directing funds to the most needy students. Trump, who wants to dramatically reduce the role of the federal government in education policy, supports subsidies for private and religious schools.

There are also stark differences in philosophy over how history is taught and the role of the federal government in enforcing civil rights.

Messages of the Trump Campaign

A broad coalition of conservative organizations recently released the 2025 Presidential Transition Project, which presents a clear plan to dramatically change federal support of public education. While not officially adopted by Mr. Trump, it details radical changes in the federal education role. Many of the proposals are fully in line with Trump’s education plan, known as Agenda 47.

If Trump wins reelection and the Republicans take control of Congress, these are the marching orders for education:

Conservative 2025 Presidential education Transition Plan
(See plan) | (See Agenda 47)

Eliminate the Department of Education:

“Federal education policy should be limited and, ultimately, the federal Department of Education should be eliminated.”

This would be accomplished by reducing the number of programs managed by the Office of elementary and secondary education and transferring some remaining programs to other federal agencies. Most of the activities of the federal government should be limited to statistics gathering. Trump has vowed to get rid of the Department of Education in a second term.

Restore local and state government control

Funding would be sent to local agencies as grants with no strings attached. e.g. Students with disabilities (IDEA) Title l

Take money away away from public schools to be used for private and religious schools

“Ultimately, every parent should have the option to direct his or her child’s share of education funding through an education savings account (ESA), funded overwhelmingly by state and local taxpayers, which would empower parents to choose a set of education options that meet their child's unique needs.”

Trump has expressed strong support for vouchers and school choice.

End Title I federal funding for low income students within 10 years.

Note: About 63 percent of traditional public schools and 62 percent of public charter schools are Title 1 eligible.

Ban Critical Race Theory and increase parent rights.

Enforcement of civil rights should be based on a proper understanding of those laws, rejecting gender ideology and critical race theory."

President Trump promises to “turn the tide of left-wing indoctrination and once again respect the fundamental right of parents to control the education, healthcare, and moral formation of their children.”

Strengthen protections for faith-based educational institutions and programs

“Freedom to pray” in public schools.

Fact Check: False

In the following video and its accompanying web page, Donald Trump asserts that America spends dramatically more than other countries on public education. This is false. Each state in the US varies in its level of effort to fund education, but in context most states compare favorably to international norms. The federal share of school budget funding is important but small.

Trump also asserts that the outcome of US schools is “at the bottom every list”. This is false. American students score about average compared to students in countries with similar economies.

Biden’s education policy proposals

President Biden’s 2025 education budget proposes to increase federal education funding by 4 percent, with few changes in policy direction. Investments to help the most needy students remain a high priority.

As mentioned above, the federal role in funding public education, while important, comprises less than a tenth of overall education spending. Most of the money comes from state and local governments.

Biden Education Policy Proposals 2025
(See proposals)

Early Education

New investments in readiness for preschool in school- and community-based settings, including Head Start, for children eligible to attend Title I schools.

Enforce Civil Rights

Increase funding for the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to protect equal access to education.

Academic support

High-dosage tutoring, expanded summer school, extended learning, and afterschool learning opportunities.


Invest in educator preparation, development, and leadership to build a diverse and well-prepared teacher pipeline and address shortages of special education teachers and providers.

Second languages

Expand access to multilingual programs.

Mental Health

Increase school-based mental health services

Special Needs

Increase funding to support children and youth with disabilities.

College Affordability

Increase the maximum Pell Grant

Expand dual enrollment.

Low income students

Increase Title I funding.

What will our children learn?

As Abraham Lincoln put it, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

At issue is not only money but how our children will be taught the constitutional rights of free speech, the rights and restrictions of peaceable assembly, the right to vote, and the obligation to follow the law.

An unprecedented question

At the time of this election cycle, a candidate for president and his political operatives are embroiled in issues that go to the heart of our democracy. There are accusations of interfering with the election process in many states. There are accusations of engineering a political coup to interfere with the peaceful transition of power.

These accusations have bearing on what we teach our children about democracy. The right to vote. The right to free speech. The right to due process of law. The presumption of innocence.

What lessons will our children learn?

Questions & Comments

To comment or reply, please sign in .

user avatar
Azin Mobasher July 15, 2024 at 10:24 am
Thank you Carol for this detailed comparison! It is really nice to see all this info in one place and accessible!
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 22, 2024 at 12:24 pm
Glad it’s helpful! Thanks for your note.
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