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Amy Klobuchar Would Focus Heavily on Education Civil Rights in First 100 Days of Presidency

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If she's elected president, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's plan for her first 100 days in office would put heavy focus on education civil rights, with pledges to Obama-era directives related to issues like sexual assault, school discipline, and LGBT students that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has either repealed or replaced during the Trump administration.

Klobuchar has sought to distinguish herself from her competitors for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by painting herself as a pragmatic and effective leader. So it's no surprise that many of her education-related proposals focus on actions that can be accomplished without the blessing of Congress.

That's because Democrats would face a steep climb to claim the presidency, maintain the House, and achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in one election. Ambitious plans by other candidates that rely on new legislation and funding streams may be difficult to achieve.

"After four years of Donald Trump, a new President can't wait for a bunch of congressional hearings to act," Klobuchar said in a Medium post announcing her 100-day plan Tuesday.

A focus on civil rights in education also touches on some of the most visible and polarizing actions of the Trump Education Department and issues that have won attention among voters in a way that some education policies have failed to do in the past. That may be because they center on vulnerable children. And it may be because DeVos herself has been an unusually visible and divisive education secretary.

Klobuchar's plans tap into that public anger, which is sometimes centered on misunderstandings and oversimplifications. For example, she pledges to put back into place 72 civil rights guidance documents related to students with disabilities that DeVos cut in 2017. That act continues to draw outrage but, as Education Week's Christina A. Samuels wrote, most of those documents had little or no effect at the time they were repealed. Fifty of them predated the most recent reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. One of those documents was an outdated letter to state chiefs about data collection for fiscal year 1983.

Not included in those 72 pieces of guidance mentioned in the plan is DeVos's efforts to delay a rule on equity in special education, efforts that have been held up in court.

Many other Trump-era K-12 civil rights actions referenced in Klobuchar's plan have had similarly broad and immediate effects. Among her plans that she would accomplish through executive action are commitments to:

  • Restore staffing levels at the Education Department's office for civil rights to speed up the processing of student complaints.
  • Reinstate Title IX civil rights guidance that outlines obligations of colleges, universities, and K-12 schools to respond to sexual assault and harassment.
  • "Reverse the harmful anti-LGBTQ administrative actions taken by the Trump Administration" in the sectors of education, health care and civil rights. In education, that is likely a reference to DeVos's recision of Obama-era guidance about the rights of transgender students in schools. Obama's administration contended that Title IX's prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex applied more broadly to gender identity, a position conservatives have disagreed with.
  • Restore Obama-era civil rights guidance that aimed to tackle disproportionately high discipline rates for students of color, particularly black and Latino students. That guidance argued that schools could be found in violation of federal civil rights laws even if their policies were written without discriminatory intent. DeVos repealed it at the recommendation of a school safety task force Trump formed in 2018.
  • Prevent federal funding from being used to arm teachers.  You can read more about the ongoing fight between congressional Democrats and DeVos on arming teachers issue here.
  • End discussions of tax credit scholarships championed by the Trump administration.
  • Direct the education secretary to ensure that federal grant programs serve to "identify, recruit and prepare homeless and foster students for college."

Klobuchar Calls for More Education Funding

Interwoven in the more than 100 policy actions Klobuchar listed in her 100 days plan are individual elements that, taken together, match the scale of some education proposals announced by fellow candidates like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Some other candidates, like California Sen. Kamala Harris, have released standalone proposals on issues like teacher pay that Klobuchar also touched on. Those plans would also require increased federal education funding. Biden told teachers at a campaign event he would finance his education plans by closing tax loopholes, appealing to the good judgement of Republican lawmakers to do so, but some political pundits question whether that is possible or realistic.

To be sure, Klobuchar's plan does include some bold, sweeping elements that would take some serious political skill to achieve. She commits to proposing an unspecified "historic investment in America's education system that will fully fund education, increase teacher pay, and rebuild our crumbling school infrastructure," pledging to finance her proposals by repealing portions of the 2017 tax bill, raising capital gains taxes, and closing other loopholes. But in the legislative elements of her plan, she only commits to proposing legislation in the first 100 days, not to getting it passed. Those legislative proposals include an infrastructure plan that covers schools.

Klobuchar also promises to include fully funding for the IDEA in her budget proposal, which is more ambitious than Biden's plan to reach full funding in 10 years. Advocates for students with disabilities have long lamented that the federal legislation is funded well below authorized levels. When the IDEA, that law that governs special education and student accomodations, was passed in 1975, Congress gave itself permission to send to states up to 40 percent of the "average per pupil expenditure" to meet the goals of the law. In contrast, the federal contribution to special education is now less than 15 percent.

Klobuchar's proposals also touch on many non-education issues relevant to schools, like the passage of the Equality Act, expansion of rural broadband, immigration reform, addressing child poverty, and federal funding for gun violence research, which has been a priority for youth advocates since the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. 

Photo: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., questions Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 


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