When school started a month ago, teachers told their students to bear with them: this school year will be unprecedented. First graders are learning to type and teleconference. Tenth graders are wearing masks during in-person class. College students are staying put in their childhood bedrooms.
What teachers likely didn’t tell their students is that their political donations this year are also unprecedented. This cycle, individuals associated with the education field have reached a new spending high of almost $150 million through August. That’s $52 million more than the previous record in 2016 with plenty of time left for more donations before the election.
Political donations from the education industry historically go to Democrats. Candidates from that party received at least 70 percent of education industry donations every cycle since 2002. This cycle, over 90 percent ($129.6 million) of donations from educators have gone to Democrats.
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All of Biden’s largest sources of money in the field come from individuals affiliated with universities. Top donors include employees of the University of California (about $1.4 million), Stanford University ($595,000) and Harvard University ($510,000). Meanwhile affiliates of the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater, donated over $368,000 to the Democratic nominee and only $10,000 to the president.
From a policy perspective, Biden is a proponent of expanding higher education in the U.S. His platform focuses on affordable college education and reducing student debt. He supports two years of tuition-free community college or equivalent vocational training for Americans, a policy he first proposed alongside President Barack Obama in 2015.
Though educators donated almost six times more to Biden than Trump, they preferred giving to other Democratic candidates in the primaries, particularly progressives Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose proposed higher education policies provide more aid to college students. Biden has gradually adopted these proposals as his own.
None of Trump’s top donors in the education field come close to spending as much as Biden’s, but more come from affiliates of public institutions and not all are from universities. Affiliates of the New York City Board of Education, the New York City Department of Education, the Clark County (Nev.) School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District all made some of the largest contributions to Trump’s campaign.
Employees of the New York City Board of Education and the New York City Department of Education gave Trump over $52,000, despite the agencies having sued his administration earlier this summer. In July, the New York City Department of Education joined a lawsuit against the Trump administration claiming that the president tried to siphon off funds meant for economically disadvantaged students. The lawsuit includes several public school districts claiming that a new U.S. Department of Education rule diverts and limits funding from the CARES Act originally intended for public schools.
Employees of the LA Unified School District, the second largest district in the U.S., donated $24,000 to Trump despite clashing this summer. In early July, just days after Trump called for schools to go back in-person learning, the LA Teachers Union demanded campuses stay closed. It was the first big union to oppose in-person teaching.
The district made headlines again just a few days later when Trump called their push to go remote a “terrible decision” and a “mistake.” While the president urged schools to reopen full-stop, Biden’s back-to-school proposal was cautious and would have given schools more money to safely reopen and imposed strict testing and sanitation criteria for students, faculty and staff in U.S. schools.
During his three years in office, Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have attempted to expand school choice and redirect money from public schools to private and charter schools. The proposed voucher programs are gaining popularity among parents during the pandemic. While Biden hopes to expand funding for schools, specifically Title I funding for students from low-income families, the president has proposed slashing Education Department funding up to 13.5 percent multiple times. Teachers and principals at public schools criticized these proposals, which would primarily affect their students. In May, professors, students and women’s rights groups denounced DeVos’ changes to Title IX that reverse Obama and Biden-era guidelines and more narrowly defined sexual misconduct while protecting students accused of such conduct.
Education is often a pressing issue in local and national elections, and though the education industry has set new donation records this cycle, as of August, educators still hadn’t donated as much to any one presidential candidate as they did to Clinton in 2016, who raised $27 million. With two months left of donations, it’s possible that educators give much more to Biden, once again making this school year an unprecedented one.