Here's how education and student loan debt could change under the Biden administration
Also, the worsening COVID-19 situation, Trump's refusal to concede and tips for better conversations about politics.
In this week’s “Crash Course,” we looked at what the incoming Biden administration means for education and educators across America.
There’s an update on the worsening COVID-19 situation in Connecticut and nationally. We also address the debate about #CancelStudentDebt and the approaching “student loan cliff.”
Keep reading for a summary of the impact of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election. Finally, check out our conversation strategies on how to talk politics this holiday season.
Educators from UConn’s Neag School hopeful for meaningful changes under new Biden administration
Fiona Brady writes: President-elect Joe Biden has a close tie to education. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College and a member of the country’s largest teachers union—the National Education Association. She will be the first person to hold the title of the first lady while continuing her professional career.
Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr
“For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You're going to have one of your own in the White House,” Biden said during his Nov. 7 election victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden campaigned on big promises for education, including tripling the funding for Title I, the federal aid program for schools serving high-poverty students. His plan focuses heavily on the safe reopening of schools amid COVID-19 with at least $200 billion in emergency funding going towards K-12 schools.
Biden has adopted progressive policy proposals for higher education, including free public college and loan forgiveness.
Biden’s pick for education secretary is highly anticipated, too, as the administration plans to roll back on many of the policies enacted under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. For example, the Trump administration’s controversial changes to Title IX increased protections for those accused of campus sexual harassment and assault. Stef Feldman, Biden’s campaign policy director, said his administration will return to President Obama’s Title IX policies which emphasized the rights of accusers.
Here’s what some professors and recent graduates from UConn’s Neag School of Education said about their expectations for education reform under the Biden Administration.
Safe Reopening of Schools
Asfia Qutub began her teaching career at East Hartford Middle School after graduating from Neag in 2019. She says teaching during the pandemic has revealed the vast inequities in education. When the pandemic hit in March, East Hartford Middle School was not prepared to make the switch to remote learning because many students did not have access to technology.
“The fact that only during a pandemic were we able to get one-on-one computers for our students really showed me that it’s a privilege to have access to technology in that manner,” Qutub said.
She says increasing funding for public schools is a credible and meaningful investment and she hopes the Biden administration will make it a priority.
Isabella “Ivy” Horan says she noticed a lack of consistency and guidance for school districts during the pandemic. Horan is a recent Neag graduate who teaches second grade at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford.
“I’m thankful that my school was able to get enough funding to get every student a laptop, but there are still some pieces that I feel like I’m missing to feel extra safe in my classroom right now,” said Horan.
Dr. Todd Campbell is a professor in science education at Neag. He says he is disheartened by the current administration’s lack of reliance on science in regards to COVID-19 and their push to get students back in the classroom without providing the necessary funds and resources for it to be done safely.
“Biden plans to fund schools and provide more resources to be sure that social distancing is possible and that schools have protective PPE,” said Campbell. “He’s thinking about how the federal government should play a role in not letting state and local governments fall so far that they have to cut teachers and professionals at a time when we’re in dire need of them.”
Increased Federal Funding and Oversight
Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has focused on expanding access to voucher programs for private schools and charter schools. The problem with this, explained UConn Education Professor Preston Green III, is the lack of federal oversight and transparency about where the funding for privatization is being directed.
“The concern that many of us have is that there needs to be more deliberation in terms of what schools get funded and what ideas get funded,” said Green, an expert in educational leadership and urban education.
While President-elect Biden has geared his education policy toward public schools, Green said the administration has also indicated it will also work to ensure other options are also operating under public oversight.
Secretary of Education
Biden pledged to appoint someone with teaching experience to be his secretary of education. Among the prospective candidates is U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and has worked to make the path to a teaching career easier for minorities.
Educators are hopeful that Biden’s secretary of education pick will be someone who can make informed decisions for teachers and students and who understands the pressures that schools are faced with.
“If you’re making decisions in education, it just makes sense to me that you have worked in the field and you know the ins and outs of what it means to be an educator,” Qutub said.
Green is not only hopeful that the new education secretary will be an advocate for public schools, but adamant about ensuring that students’ civil rights are protected.
“That’s a major concern that I have and I just hope that doesn’t get lost,” said Green.
The worsening COVID-19 situation
Ben Crnic writes: More than a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down. Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed around the country. On Wednesday alone, there were 166,000 new cases and 1,800 people died from the virus.
With Thanksgiving around the corner and the weather getting colder, the rise in cases is especially concerning. The Center for Disease Control advises against traveling for the holiday. Here’s a rundown of how Connecticut and UConn are dealing with the increase in cases, how millennials are being affected by the pandemic, and the hopes of a working vaccine.
Connecticut steps up safety measures
COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the rise here in Connecticut. Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged the state is in the middle of a second wave. Nearly all of Connecticut’s cities and towns (96%) are now under red alert status, and the positivity rate is up to 6.5%. The death toll is now up to 4,805.
Despite the rapid increase in COVID, Lamont does not want Connecticut to enter a full lockdown like it did in the spring. He instead stressed the need for “interstate collaboration and a regional approach to slowing the spread of the virus,” according to the Hartford Courant.
Lamont recently instituted stricter safety measures, including closing restaurants by 10 p.m. and restricting indoor gatherings to 10 people. He is also mandating the wearing of masks in public, and recommends people stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Gyms, places of worship and restaurants remain open, but with reduced capacity. The measures in Connecticut are more relaxed than states like New York and New Jersey, which both have stricter capacity limits for gyms and restaurants.
Not everyone is satisfied with these measures, though. New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker has called for the state to return to Phase 1 of the reopening plan after nine city restaurants were closed for COVID violations. New Haven currently has an infection rate of 19 cases per 100,000 people and has been a coronavirus hotspot for a month.
UConn provides exit testing as students leave campus
The surge of COVID cases has also been felt here in Storrs. As of November 19, there were 66 positive cases at UConn. On Wednesday, 40 off-campus students tested positive for COVID, according to an email from Dean of Students Eleanor JB Daugherty. This is a record high for UConn.
The entire UConn campus was recently put under quarantine in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. Exit testing was also provided to all students before they left campus for Thanksgiving break, following the advice from Gov. Lamont and other governors from neighboring states. Nearly 7,000 UConn students were tested over the past five days, according to an email from the Dean of Students.
The pandemic has worsened mental health for young people
The pandemic is also affecting young people in the areas of employment, living situations and mental health. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), younger people express the greatest concern over the impact of the pandemic on “mental well-being, employment, income loss, disruptions to education, familial relations and friendships, as well as a limitation to individual freedoms.”
The OECD also found that people aged 25 and under are 2.5 times more likely to be without a job than the 26-64 age group, and that graduating during a recession can have a “scarring effect” on wages. The pandemic has forced many young people to move back home as well, as more than 50% of 18- to 29-year olds are now living with their parents.
Vaccine on the horizon
Pfizer and Moderna both announced their COVID-19 vaccines are 95% effective at preventing illness, signaling that a viable vaccine may be arriving soon. The companies are seeking emergency authorization from the FDA for their experimental vaccines. Some 40 million doses of the vaccine are expected to be available by the end of the year. The vaccine will require two doses to be effective.
The process of approving the vaccine is being rushed. Usually, the FDA examines vaccine data for at least a year before meeting with its advisory committee. The FDA has stated that it might take a couple of weeks to make a final decision on the vaccine after it meets with its independent advisory committee.
According to a November Gallup poll, 58% of Americans say that they would immediately take a COVID-19 vaccine, which is up from 50% in September. A Connecticut Vaccine Advisory Group is helping to determine who should be first in line to receive a COVID vaccine, CT Mirror reported.
White House Inaction
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the nation, President Trump has made few public appearances since the election was called for Joe Biden. He has also refused to cooperate with Biden’s presidential transition team on COVID-19 issues.
Biden met with several Republican and Democrat governors from the National Governors Association on Thursday to discuss how his administration could help states overcome the pandemic. Biden has pledged to mandate mask wearing, work with governors to impose similar local restrictions, and expand testing and contact tracing efforts. Without Trump’s cooperation with the transition, there is not much the Biden administration can do until he is sworn into office on January 20.
Why #CancelStudentDebt trended on Twitter this week
Ashley Anglisano writes: President-elect Biden said he wants to erase student debt “immediately,” and has repeatedly announced his support for the HEROES act, making the federal government pay for up to $10,000 of a students private, non-federal student loans for “economically distressed” borrowers.
A study at the Levy Economics Institute from 2018 found that student debt cancelations would boost the economy and could encourage young people to start businesses, buy homes and start families. Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has argued that canceling student debt would reduce the racial wealth gap and allow more people to continue their education.
However, critics argue that people with college degrees typically earn more money than those who don’t have them. Student debt cancellation could be regressive—since aid would target people who are already at an advantage.
Other critics, including conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, say canceling student debt could lead to the cancellation of mortgage and credit card debt, which would have negative economic consequences.
A recent study by the Financial Times found the COVID-19 pandemic is deeply affecting the economic ability of students and young workers, and has amplified trends like low wages, stagnant job markets and rising student debt.
The rising $1.6 trillion in student loan debt held by 44 millions Americans, coupled with the economic effects of COVID-19, pushed many Democratic leaders to call for some sort of debt cancelation.
“[Borrowers are] having to make choices between paying their student loan and paying their rent,” Biden said.
Peter Fenteany, a UConn senior mathematics major, said he initially made choices in his college career to avoid taking out loans, but after reflecting said there should be some sort of loan relief program.
“Going to college is a necessity for economic mobility, and for many people, even making the ‘right’ choice financially involves taking out loans,” Fenteany said. “These people especially should not be punished for seeking education and a better life.”
The “student loan cliff,” created by Trump’s pause on student loan payments through the end of 2020, might push borrowers into more economic distress amid the pandemic.
A Pew Research survey from earlier this fall found 58% of borrowers who had their payments paused would have a hard time continuing those payments starting in January 2021. Many are looking to the Trump administration to extend this program while still in office.
“There’s no indication that we are through the pandemic, and it’s a bit of a mystery why the administration that has extended the benefits already won’t extend them once again,” Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president for The Institute for College Access & Success, told Politico.
Trump's refusal to concede has consequences
Allison O’Donnell writes: Biden was declared President-elect by the Associated Press on Nov. 7. Biden has won 290 electoral votes and racked up nearly 6 million more votes than Trump. But Trump has yet to concede.
Trump has internally acknowledged the defeat with aides and advisors, according to Bloomberg, even as he continues to publicly discredit the outcome. His campaign has filed almost a dozen lawsuits, most attempting to halt the vote-counting process or disqualify groups of ballots.
Trump’s refusal to concede has delayed the start of the official transition to Biden’s administration. General Services Administration leader Emily Murphy has not acknowledged Biden's election win — a necessary first step before the president-elect can receive resources for a transition of government.
Recognition from the GSA permits access to federal departments, agencies, personnel, funds, and daily intelligence briefings. It would also allow Biden’s transition team to coordinate with the White House’s coronavirus task force.
Meanwhile, Trump and his surrogates continue to push theories about voter fraud without evidence. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani made claims of a “communist” plot to rig voting machines in a press conference this week, while hair dye-colored sweat appeared to drip down the sides of his face.
The Trump campaign is paying $3 million to recount votes in two Wisconsin counties. They dropped an election-related lawsuit in Michigan and instead — in an extraordinary move — invited top Michigan GOP legislators to the White House on Friday. The invitation is reportedly part of a strategy to get friendly state legislatures to appoint electors who would overturn the will of the voters, subverting the democratic process, according to the Associated Press.
Conversation strategies for Thanksgiving dinner 🗣🗯
Mike Mavredakis writes: We all faced unprecedented challenges this year. Now that the holiday season is coming up, it may be the first time many of us have seen our family members in a long time.
Considering the election just happened and results are still being confirmed, politics will probably come up in conversation. (That’s almost a guarantee, especially if you knew my family.)
A YouGov poll released this week found that 75% of people think their families aren’t going to argue at this year’s Thanksgiving. However, of the 17% who said they will predict some sort of disagreement and 43% said it would be because of politics.
The same poll said that most Americans are going to spend Thanksgiving with like-minded people. Only 20% of Republicans said they were going to be in a politically mixed group and just 12% of Democrats said the same.
UConn Associate History Professor Brendan Kane, a coordinator of UConn’s Democracy and Dialogues Initiative, provided some advice on how to handle these conversations. His answers have been edited for length.
Q. How can college students best facilitate dialogue with their family members on contentious topics like the election?
“Dialogue is not debate. If you want people to hash it out and have winners and losers, then sure have a debate or argument. But if you wish to have a space where people can talk about something that is an elephant in the room and needs to be addressed before going forward, or you just simply wish to have a conversation about it, then try to set some gentle ground rules for actual dialogue.”
Q. Is it better for students to avoid the conversation? If so, how would you recommend they go about doing that?
“I do actually think that avoidance is perfectly fine. And if one wishes to practice avoidance — which I find myself doing frequently with my in-laws — it can be best to simply let that happen naturally as opposed to announcing it.”
Q. If students live in a family that has one dominant set of viewpoints, how do they go about talking about the other side?
“I think a critical point here is making crystal clear that there are vastly more than two sides. Reducing things to two sides, which we often do, creates a false situation in which there are only two views on the world. But we know that that is false, and that it is the product of a two-party political system. Thus, one can find common ground as a means to remind of another's humanity, i.e. make sure to show your agreement on points that might resonate with you while remaining clear and honest about points of difference.”
In case you missed it
Georgia’s vote audit confirmed that President-elect Biden won the state, beating Trump by 12,284 votes. Officials said there was no fraud or irregularities. [CNN]
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham faces an ethics complaint after a phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger said Graham urged him to exclude or invalidate legally cast absentee ballots and reverse Trump’s loss. [USA Today]
Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which debunked false claims of election fraud and hacking, was fired by President Trump this week via Twitter. [NBC News]
Biden is assembling his White House staff, some of whom have served in previous administrations. [NBC News]
A wave of ‘Trumpism’ has stayed consistent in Connecticut since 2016. According to the Secretary of the State’s office, Trump supporters stayed within a percentage point of the 2016 vote. [Hartford Courant]
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading and subscribing to our newsletter. We hope we were able to provide you with a useful “Crash Course” on all things #Election2020. Be on the lookout for our final “Crash Course” of 2020: a ‘Behind the Stories’ podcast featuring interviews with political journalists reflecting on the election and what comes next.
Crash Course is reported, written and produced by UConn Journalism majors Ashley Anglisano, Fiona Brady, Ben Crnic, Mike Mavredakis and Allison O’Donnell, under the guidance of Associate Professor Marie K. Shanahan. Read more about us »
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