WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden promised to give teachers a pay raise and direct more money to schools that serve low-income children, but those education reforms will have to take a back seat to emergency needs as schools fight to save teacher jobs and close funding gaps during the pandemic.
Education groups say that more than half a million teachers and school personnel have been laid off and more turmoil is on the horizon unless the federal government steps in with emergency funding. Those critical needs must be addressed first, they said, over the more aspirational parts of Biden's education agenda.
Biden's education plan to "give teachers a raise" and "eliminate the funding gap between white and non-white districts" relies on expanding the federal education aid provision known as Title I, which he cannot do without Congress.
Additional funding for low-income schools and an increase in teacher compensation will be difficult to achieve, especially if Republicans keep control of the Senate, education experts said.
"He's going to have significant constraints in terms of funding. To triple Title I funding is a big lift," said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association. "It's a dream that we've all had, and it should have happened, but it's going to require a lot of money at a time when the economy and money going towards the coronavirus and stimulating the economy may take precedence."
Biden's agenda has the backing of influential teachers' unions that are close to the president-elect and his wife, Jill Biden, who is a professor at a Virginia community college. Leaders of those groups say they will put political pressure on lawmakers to help the Democrat implement his agenda.
But a large education funding initiative would have to overcome the type of gridlock that has prevented another coronavirus recovery package from making headway.
Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives. Control of the Senate, currently held by Republicans, will depend on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia.
To claim the majority, Democrats must win both Georgia Senate seats. That would then allow the vice president, who will be Kamala Harris, to cast tie-breaking votes on legislation.
In the Democratic presidential primary, Harris proposed putting $315 billion in federal spending toward teacher pay over 10 years. Biden has proposed tripling Title I funding to increase educational access and teacher pay, which would expand the $16.3 billion program to nearly $50 billion.