NOEL KING, HOST:
What will a Biden administration mean for U.S. education policy? The president-elect offered a hint during his victory speech on Saturday.
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JOE BIDEN: For American educators, this is a great day for y'all.
BIDEN: You're going to have one of your own in the White House.
KING: One of your own - he was talking about his wife, of course, Jill Biden, who's a longtime community college English professor. Anya Kamenetz from NPR's education team has been talking to people in and around his transition team. Good morning, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What's Joe Biden's top education priority here?
KAMENETZ: Well, it's pretty basic - getting school doors open safely, given the pandemic. Here's the president-elect two months ago.
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BIDEN: I think going back to school for millions of children and the impacts on their families and the community is a national emergency.
KAMENETZ: So it's different in different places around the country. But by a recent estimate, just about 38% of children are in districts that offer full-time in-person learning right now. So that raises a lot of concerns about learning loss and social and emotional impacts as well.
KING: Most people do want kids back in school - parents want it, kids want it, teachers want it. There is a pandemic, of course. What can a Biden administration potentially do that isn't being done?
KAMENETZ: So one thing experts told me is that regardless of any legislation or any significant funding, really, just having more coordination at the federal level to the pandemic response could really help schools reopen and stay open - things like tracking cases nationally, giving more safety guidance.
And it's interesting to note, you know, we know the doctors that Biden's appointed to his COVID safety task force. Many of them have been vocal about the need to open schools and even about the emerging science that opening elementary schools at least has not led to big outbreaks in a lot of places. Of course, they emphasize the need to do it safely. Dr. Zeke Emanuel wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times, setting out school reopening guidelines, being safe is not free.
KING: Meaning we need money to do this. What money is needed, and where is it going to come from?
KAMENETZ: Well, we're talking about - you know, about a million educators have been laid off since the pandemic...
KAMENETZ: ...Due to the recession. Yeah. And so, you know, getting smaller class sizes, that means you need educators and a new coronavirus stimulus bill, actually, could end up including the biggest federal education aid package in a really long time. House Democrats have introduced a bill that names $260 billion over 10 years to hire educators, to save their salaries. So that's, like, an opening bid, right?
And Biden's campaign, of course, has a long wish list of things they would like to do with more money, like raising teacher pay, doubling the number of mental health professionals in schools is really important with the impacts of the pandemic and introducing public universal preschool. So, you know, lots of things, if you could only pay for them, right?
KING: Yeah, that is quite the wish list. Beyond legislation, what are some of the other areas of education policy that you're going to be keeping an eye on?
KAMENETZ: So, of course, on top of having professor Jill Biden as first lady, the president-elect has pledged often and loudly to appoint an educator as the education secretary. And I talked to Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, about what that means to her.
BECKY PRINGLE: It brings a smile to my face to say it. It seems like something we would take for granted, that the secretary of education would be an educator. But, no, it is something we have to say out loud.
KAMENETZ: Out loud, of course, after four years of Betsy DeVos, who had no professional experience with public school classrooms. And, you know, Becky Pringle and other observers also told me they're expecting a change in tone from this administration, to be a partner, fighting discrimination, segregation and bias in education going forward.
KING: NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thanks, Anya.
KAMENETZ: Thank you.
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