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The Topic That Didn’t Get a Single Mention in Biden-Trump Debate

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden didn’t mention K-12 education in their first debate in the 2024 election cycle.

With no questions on the topic during the 90-minute debate at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta on Thursday, neither candidate took any clear stance on the issue even at times when they chose to stray from the moderators’ questions.

Historically, education has not been a major factor in voters’ decisions in presidential elections. Policies and priorities for K-12 schools are likely to hold even less weight this year as the economy, immigration, foreign policy, Biden’s age, and Trump’s status as a convicted felon all hold more media attention.

Most education policy is decided in school board meetings and state legislatures, not at the federal level. But the president has influence over some policy and federal education funding through programs like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as well as enforcement of students’ civil rights.

Neither candidate has outlined much in the way of a concrete K-12 agenda for the next four years, but their likely policy priorities reveal a stark divide.

Biden has proposed funding increases for the U.S. Department of Education, raising Title I and IDEA funding in his recent budget plans. He also proposed $8 billion in academic acceleration and achievement grants in his most recent budget proposal that’s pending before Congress, which would take effect as the last and largest round of $190 billion in pandemic-relief aid for schools is winding down.

He could also spend part of a second term defending his administration’s rewrite of Title IX regulations, which state explicitly that the landmark law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded schools also outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trump has said he would dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and defund schools that teach “critical race theory” and “gender ideology,” while advocating for school choice policies that allow parents to spend public funds on private school tuition.

A policy agenda assembled by Trump allies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, called Project 2025, proposes to dramatically scale back the federal role in education, ending Title I in a decade, distributing federal special education funds to states as block grants with no strings attached, and scaling back the federal government’s ability to enforce civil rights laws in schools.

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