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Where Biden stands on his education campaign promises

President Biden had some lofty education goals during his 2020 campaign.

The president made promises that included increased education funding and reforms to higher education and student debt.

“Biden is proposing a bold plan for education and training beyond high school that will give hard-working Americans the chance to join or maintain their place in the middle class, regardless of their parents’ income or the color of their skin,” the president’s 2020 campaign website said.


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Now, with three years on the books and less than a year until voters decide if he deserves another four in office, here is where he stands on fulfilling his education pledges.

Student debt relief

The campaign promise that has been under the biggest spotlight is universal student debt relief.

While Biden on the trail did not go as far as his primary opponents, he did pledge at least $10,000 in student debt relief for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year.

“We should forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans, as proposed by [Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren] and colleagues,” Biden tweeted in 2020. “Young people and other student debt holders bore the brunt of the last crisis. It shouldn’t happen again.”

The president did attempt to make this promise a reality. The Department of Education had applications and plans to cancel $10,000 for all borrowers making less than $125,000, and $20,000 for those who were on Pell Grants in school with the same income requirement.

However, the plan was shot down at the Supreme Court in June, with the justices ruling that the provision Biden cited did not grant him the authority to cancel that much debt.

Now, the administration is looking at making a new plan through a different process — but it seems this version of loan forgiveness will not be universal but instead target certain groups.

And while advocates have stood behind Biden and his efforts to cancel student debt, they want to see more from him.

Braxton Brewington, press secretary for the Debt Collective, previously told The Hill he believes Biden should use an executive order to clear all student debt.

“I think we’ll sort of — until that changes — continue to push Biden on executive action, who in our ideal world would say, ‘I’m canceling student debt,’ you know, or, ‘I’m keeping student loan payments paused for the rest of my administration,’” Brewington said.

The Biden administration has, however, taken steps to forgive student debt for some borrowers, including people with disabilities and those on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has cancelled more than $127 billion in loan debt for nearly 3.6 million borrowers, and we are not done helping borrowers,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement. “We are also instituting a 12-month on-ramp to protect borrowers from the harshest consequences from missed, partial, and late payments as borrowers prepare for repayment this fall.”

Student debt Part 2: income-driven repayment

The administration has, however, seen broad success in Biden’s promise to reform income-driven repayments (IDR) to lower monthly student loan payments.

“We’re going to cut student loan payments in half by using those income-based payments,” Biden said at the start of the presidency, and his administration launched its Saving on Valuable Education (SAVE) IDR plan this fall.

“Already more than 5.5 million people have signed up for SAVE and of those, more than 2.9 million have a payment of $0 thanks to the President’s plan,” the White House said.

The first part of the plan changes the income exemption from 150 to 225 percent above federal poverty guidelines, meaning monthly payments will be based on a smaller portion of a person’s income. The plan also stopped the growth of unpaid interest.

Next year, SAVE will also cut monthly payments from 10 percent of a person’s discretionary income to 5 percent.

“I’m thrilled to see that in less than three months, nearly 5.5 million Americans in every community across the country are taking advantage of the SAVE Plan’s many benefits, from lower monthly payments to protection from runaway student loan interest,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “The Biden-Harris Administration will not rest in its efforts to fix the broken student loan system and make paying for college more affordable.”

Free community college

One of Biden’s biggest education promises was to make two-year community college free for all students, a target that has remained out of reach.

In the president’s Build Back Better plan in 2021, he did include two years of free community college. The plan had $45.5 billion going to states, so they could afford free two-year degrees for all students over the next five years.

But in negotiations with Republicans, Biden had to scale back the larger proposal, which included slashing the money for this effort.

“One year ago, I told this group that Joe was going to fight for community colleges,” first lady Jill Biden said. “But Joe has also had to make compromises. Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better agenda — yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package.”

Biden has continued to push funding for the issue, with his 2024 budget proposal asking Congress for $90 billion through the next decade for free community college.

At this point, the goal is unlikely to be achieved by the end of Biden’s first term.

“President Biden knows that investing in education and supporting student borrowers is a downpayment on America’s future, while Republicans think it’s fair game to sell out young people and their education,” said Biden-Harris 2024 spokesperson Seth Schuster. “Since taking office, President Biden has secured historic investments in our public education system and has worked tirelessly to make education beyond high school more affordable.”

Title I funding

The president at the beginning of his term wanted to triple the amount of funding that went toward Title I.

Title I funding is used to help low-income students and had a 2023 budget of $18 billion.

While the president was able to secure an 11 percent increase, nearing $2 billion, for Title I schools, it does not hit the mark he initially set out at the beginning of the campaign. Biden has pushed for even more funding but has not been successful.

“Under the President’s leadership, we secured the largest increase in Pell Grants in a decade, provided HBCUs with more than $7.3 billion in cumulative investments, and secured a nearly $2 billion increase in Title I funds,” the White House said.

While education advocates have been happy with the push for more money toward low-income schools, it has been acknowledged for a while that federal funding will not change much without more efforts from state and local governments.

“With just a handful exceptions, I’m concerned that most states do not sufficiently prioritize funding for high poverty districts and communities of color,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the previous chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said back in 2021.

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