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Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Education

As college costs and student debt have risen, more attention — at least among Democrats — has been focused on increasing federal support for higher education. A few years ago, the conversation centered on lowering interest rates for borrowers, and then on making community college free. But now several candidates aim to make four-year public colleges free for some or all students. Some go further, promising to erase existing debt. The plans are expensive, but draw support particularly from young people struggling to afford college.

Candidates also are talking about new ways to support elementary and secondary education, including new initiatives to increase access to pre-kindergarten and to supplement teacher pay. But there’s less support today for public charter schools, which many Democrats once considered a way to help poor kids escape low-performing schools. This version of school choice may have been tainted by association with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is reviled among Democrats. There’s scant support, too, for DeVos-backed vouchers or tax credits that help pay for private schools.

The sleeper education issue of the year, though, is school segregation, after Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) challenged former vice president Joe Biden on his 1970s-era opposition to court-mandated desegregation and busing. That conversation has prompted a debate about how to best address segregation in schools today.

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