Guest Blog: Monica Lee Explains the Democratic Candidates’ Stances on School Integration and Equity

Portrait of Monica LeeThe top 2020 Democratic candidates have battled it out on debate stages, participated in hours of town hall meetings, and endured The Great Iowa Caucus Disaster of 2020. One issue has seemingly faded into the background this election season: education. You don’t have to take my word for it. The New York Times reports that, as of late November, healthcare had received 95 minutes of airtime during the debates, while education got a meager 18 minutes.

Although student loan debt and free college programs have taken up much of the space in education policy, affordability is not the only obstacle keeping our students from realizing their full academic potential. We know that integrated schools improve outcomes for students of all races. 

Great strides toward integration were made in the years immediately following Brown v. Board of Education. However, the Nixon and Reagan administrations’ slashing of integration efforts and the loosening of federal oversight have brought us to a reality in which our schools are more segregated now than they were 30 years ago. It is imperative that these candidates move with urgency to revive the fight for integration and equity in our education system. 

What They Agree On

If we narrow in on the issue of integration and equity, there are a number of things that these four candidates all agree on. Each of the candidates’ proposals includes greater investments in education on the federal level. More specifically, the candidates plan to fully fund and expand the powers of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees public schools’ compliance with civil rights laws. 

Senator Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg both plan to triple Title I funding to support additional services for students and to raise teacher salaries. Senator Elizebeth Warren plans to quadruple those same funds. Since Title I funding provides supplemental funding for schools serving a large low-income population, increasing funding allocations could make a large difference in the support provided to some of our most vulnerable student populations. 

All of the candidates outline plans to investigate and eliminate disciplinary policies in schools that lead to racial disparities, such as exclusionary and zero tolerance policies, as well as to invest in the research and expansion of other practices like restorative justice. Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg additionally all promise to increase investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), minority serving institutions (MSIs), and tribal colleges and universities. 

Where They Differ

The meat of the conversation lies in how these candidates differ:


Senator Sanders released his “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education” on the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, clearly indicating his prioritization of integration and anti-discrimination. Unlike his fellow candidates, Senator Sanders pledges to build on the Strength in Diversity Act, which would increase federal funding for community-driven strategies to desegregate schools. 

How Much It Costs

  • The overall cost of Sanders’ K-12 education plan would amount to $2.2 trillion over 10 years.

How Sanders Will Pay for It

  • Sanders claims this cost will be covered by his “Wall Street Tax.” This tax would raise small levies on buying and selling stocks, bonds and derivatives. Some economists believe this tax could bring in $2.4 trillion over 10 years, which would indeed cover the programs’ $2.2 trillion cost. It is important to note that while Sanders puts forth a sweeping federal policy agenda, he speaks little to how he plans to leverage and incentivize states and local governments, which account for 90% of education dollars.


Senator Warren plans to use a combination of state incentives, federal funding streams, and additional incentives in her “Housing Plan for America” to bring the country forward on the issue of school integration. 

How Much It Costs

  • Her Housing Plan establishes a $10 billion competitive grant program that offers states and cities a monetary incentive to build schools, parks and roads if they eliminate restrictive zoning laws that further racial segregation. Warren states that she will quadruple Title I funds, to the tune of $450 billion over 10 years. 

How Warren Will Pay for It

  • She plans to pay for the entirety of her education plan with an “Ultra-Millionaire Tax.” This is a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth. 


Mayor Buttigieg promises to dedicate a $500 million fund to incentivize and support community-led racial and economic school integration. Buttigieg hopes to strengthen accountability on a local level by instituting a “federal preclearance process” that “requires consideration of racial and socioeconomic integration as a part of any district or boundary change.” Buttigieg also plans to utilize Housing and Urban Development alongside the Department of Education to take on school segregation. 

How Much It Costs

  • Coming in slightly under Warren and Sanders, Buttigieg plans to make a $425 billion investment in K-12 education. 

How Buttigieg Will Pay for It

  • Unlike Warren and Sanders, Buttigieg does not plan to increase taxes on the 1%. Instead, he plans to create greater tax enforcement on the wealthy and corporations. The nonprofit Tax Policy Center found that from the years 2008-10 the IRS reported an annual average gross gap of $458 billion. If this is indeed the average amount of tax gap per year, greater enforcement would pay for Buttigieg’s plan. 


Senator Amy Klobuchar claims that in her first 100 days in office she will propose legislation to make historic investments in public education to fill funding gaps, increase teacher salary, and close the opportunity gap. Unlike her opponents, much of Klobuchar’s plan consists of her relevant congressional experience. Honorable mention goes to a number of Acts she has co-sponsored, all of which attempt to further equity in early childhood education. 

How Much It Costs

  • The details are unclear, and there is little talk of the spending figures. 

How Klobuchar Will Pay for It

  • Senator Klobuchar specifies that her investments will come from a raise in capital gains and dividends for those in the top-2% income bracket. Her finish in New Hampshire has made her a top tier contender in this race. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to put more detailed policy proposals on the table as she steps further into the spotlight.


When it comes to desegregation and equity, the candidates’ goals all mirror the Democratic Party’s goals: integrate our schools to improve outcomes for students, invest in our most vulnerable populations, and create an education system that works for all kids. Where most of the candidates differ is how we pay for it and how power is distributed between local and federal government. That is what the voters get to decide.