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Warren's 'Transformational' Education Plan Takes Aim at Charter Schools and Vouchers, Vowing to Make Schools Safe and Equitable for All Students

"It's a plan focused on supporting students from birth to college and career, and on supporting teachers throughout their careers."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) embraces a child after speaking at a town hall meeting at Shrine Auditorium on August 21, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

After including proposals to ensure a safe and equitable learning environment for students across the country into a number of her policy outlines, Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday tied her vision for America's public schools together with a comprehensive plan to give every child access to "high-quality public education—no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make."

The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate's plan aims to tackle persistent school segregation, which continues 65 years after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision; end the growth of charter schools and voucher programs which pull public dollars from neighborhood schools; and pump tens of billions of dollars into low-income schools across the country.

Warren's education plan focuses on five main goals:

  • Fund schools adequately and equitably so that all students have access to a great public education.

As president, Warren would inject an additional $450 billion into the Title I funding program for low-income schools, quadrupling federal investment in those schools.

The additional investment would be used to enforce transparency and push states to adopt progressive tax structures, something only 11 states have done.

"It's a stark reversal of years of austerity and failed quick-fix reforms that have defunded public schools, hollowed out the teaching force, prioritized testing over learning, and failed to meet the needs of our children and the promise of public education."
—Randi Weingarten, AFT
"I've long been concerned about the way that school systems rely heavily on local property taxes, shortchanging students in low-income areas and condemning communities caught in a spiral of decreasing property values and declining schools," Warren wrote. "I would condition access to this additional Title I funding on states chipping in more funding, adopting more progressive funding formulas, and actually allocating funding consistently with these new formulas."

On top of Warren's plan to upgrade America's schools with increased energy efficiency, the senator would also commit at least $50 billion to repairing school infrastructure.

  • Renew the fight against segregation and discrimination in our schools.

Warren plans to aggressively enforce rules barring neighborhoods from seceding from their school districts and creating new districts—something at least 128 districts have done since 2000.

"These 'breakaway' districts are often wealthier and whiter than the district they leave behind and typically result in massive funding inequities between the new district and the old one," Warren wrote.

As Rachel Cohen suggested at The Intercept, Warren's focus on making sure low-income and majority-black or Latinx schools receive adequate funding was a political calculation that could contribute to a shift her base:

From a political perspective, the plan is likely to draw fire from the types of wealthy suburbs that have leaned toward Warren's candidacy, and which she would likely need in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to win the general election.

Warren would also strengthen Title VI, the portion of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits racial discrimination in schools, by expanding students' and parents' rights to challenge systemic inequality—not just intentional discrimination.

  • Provide a warm, safe, and nurturing school climate for all our kids.

In addition to protections for LGBTQ students, Warren plans to ensure that schools are safe environments for low-income students.

On the heels of news reports about a New Jersey school district that proposed banning students with lunch debt from field trips and proms, the senator wrote that she would "cancel all existing student meal debt and increase federal funding to school meals programs so that students everywhere get free breakfast and lunch."

Warren would also work to make sure no schools are closed, teachers are fired, or other "high stakes decisions" are made based on standardized test scores. Instead, Warren would "encourage schools to use authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways."

  • Treat teachers and staff like the professionals they are.

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Warren pledged in the plan to strengthen teachers' ability to organize and bargain for fair treatment.

"Warren's plan rightly elevates the rights of teachers to come together and use their voice to advocate for what their students need, like the educators in Chicago are doing right now," American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said. "It's a plan focused on supporting students from birth to college and career, and on supporting teachers throughout their careers."

  • Stop the privatization and corruption of our public education system.

Warren has taken aim at government corruption throughout her presidential campaign and in a number of her policy proposals. In her education plan, she pledged to "fight back against privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation's schools."

The Democratic 2020 hopeful would end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools while ensuring existing charter schools are subject to aggressive oversight. She would also ban for-profit charter schools and direct the IRS to investigate "so-called non-profit schools," banning them if they actually benefit for-profit entities.

Calling for a country that provides "great neighborhood schools for every student," Warren added that under her plan, the diversion of public funds through vouchers and tuition tax credits would also be banned.

AFT praised the plan as "transformational."

"It's a stark reversal of years of austerity and failed quick-fix reforms that have defunded public schools, hollowed out the teaching force, prioritized testing over learning, and failed to meet the needs of our children and the promise of public education," AFT's Weingarten said.

The proposal also won the support of public school advocates and other observers on social media.

Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Jamerson noted that the plan rounded out the spending that Warren plans to do with revenue from her Ultra-Millionaire Tax.

"So Warren's entire wealth tax is being spent on children and education, from infancy through college," Buzzfeed journalist Molly Hensley-Clancy wrote.

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