By Abby Simons, The Des Moines Register
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden rolled out a $30 billion education plan Thursday that promises two years of preschool and two years of college for every kid in America, plus an increase in teacher pay.
It won't be cheap, Biden conceded Thursday, as he rolled out the plan for the first time to a crowd of students and community members at Des Moines' East High School. But, he said, it would cost but a fraction of the mounting bills for the Iraq war.
Calling himself an "education president," should he be elected, the Delaware senator said pre-kindergarten and higher education are equally important when it comes to shrinking the nation's growing gap between the rich and the poor.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this really is about America's future and its security," he said. "How can we sustain ourselves internationally if we have a shrinking middle class?" The solution starts with preschoolers and ends with teachers, Biden said.
The points of Biden's plan include:
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Iraq | High School
Adding two years of preschool to the public education system, funded by Head Start and Early Head Start at the cost of $12 billion annually. Grants would expand high quality, state-funded preschool programs and expand programs to provide home visitations and education programs to new parents.
He also proposes extending school schedules to increase learning time.
Two years of higher education would be available to students who may not otherwise be able to afford it with a $3,000 refundable tax credit to families making up to $166,000 a year. Biden calls the tax credit the equivalent to a $12,000 deduction that would cover the average cost of tuition and fees for two years of college. Biden would also expand Pell grants from $4,310 to $6,300. The plan would also provide up to $9,300 in assistance to low-income students by making the tax credit refundable.
Bonuses to teachers employed at high-poverty schools who stay in the same school five years, plus government help with student loan repayment. Biden pledged a minimum salary of $45,000 a year for starting teachers.
Hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce average class sizes to 18 students.
Biden promises $2 billion a year in grants to states and school districts to pay for incentives and the hiring of new educators.
Several other Democratic candidates have offered plans to increase Pell grants, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Clinton proposes to increase the Hope Tax Credit to from $1,650 to $3,000 and make it available for four years of college instead of the current two. Biden's plan differs from those of presidential candidates Sens. Chris Dodd and John Edwards, who propose, in part, to reform the federal student loan program.
East High School Junior Tyler Stumme, 16, was the first to ask Biden how he intended to pay for his education plan with the escalating costs of the war.
Biden thanked the teenager and responded simply: "Ending the war." Biden said the $30 billion cost of his education plan is less than what is spent in three months fighting the war in Iraq. It's also less, he said, than the revenue reduction the government saw after the tax cuts enacted by President Bush. He also pledged that, if elected, he would cut $150 billion from the Pentagon's budget in four years.
He's confident in his ideas, he said, because of his three decades of experience in the Senate that have allowed him to reach across the partisan lines.
"I'm the only candidate who will get respect from the other side of the aisle with my ideas, to get them to vote for me," he said.