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Julián Castro introducing Barack Obama, 2015 (Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license)

Julián Castro continued the hot trend of 2020 campaigns with Big Ideas, releasing his "People First Education" plan Monday like some kind of common Elizabeth Warren. It has several elements in common with education plans already out there, like calling for universal pre-K, increased funding to fix education infrastructure, and free tuition for public universities, community colleges, and vocational schools. And like Warren, Castro also wants to tackle the student loan debt mess, albeit with a slightly different mechanism. Let's put on our poindexter spectacles and take a look!


Castro called for the federal government to support a "seamless continuum" of education from pre-kindergarten through college, and for an end to educational inequalities that have remained since segregation. To get there, he wants to make universal pre-k education available to all 3- and 4-year-olds, to be funded through grants to state and local governments. He greatly expanded pre-K when he was mayor of San Antonio, under the name "Pre-K for SA," so naturally, his new initiative would be "Pre-K for USA." In addition to making pre-K available to parents who want it, Castro would also expand funding for pre-K teacher training and higher education opportunities, and would require "linkages between pre-K and K-12 systems" so that kids won't have to learn all their colors and shapes from scratch in kindergarten.

Castro would also invest $150 billion in K-12 school infrastructure, including broadband internet for schools. In what seems like a rare acknowledgement that science and tech aren't the only things worth learning, he calls for investments in music, arts, and foreign language education, too. What a snob! He also would expand dual-enrollment programs so that by the time students graduate high school, they should be able to earn at least a year in college credit if they want to. And Castro calls for "flexibility in defining success," through a transition to "competency-based assessments" instead of the damned standardized testing.

At the college level, Castro wants to eliminate tuition for public colleges, universities, community colleges, and vo-tech schools, to be paid for through cost-sharing with states and unspecified "incentives to reduce the cost of college programs." Kind of amazing that in the four years since people thought Bernie Sanders was nuts for calling for free college, this has become a pretty routine fixture for several candidates, huh? And like Warren's ed plan, Castro also wants to bar federal funds from going to for-profit colleges. If they want to get federal student loan funds or GI Bill education money, Castro would let them become real nonprofits. But how would they fleece people that way, huh?

The most innovative part of Castro's plan is his proposal for dealing with student loan debt. Where Warren would flat out cancel the first $50,000 of all federal student loan debt for people making under $100K a year, Castro would instead give people the chance to get established in a career before they have to make any student loan payments. Anyone making less than 250 percent of the federal poverty rate would have monthly loan "payments" of zero dollars. Once the borrower is making two and a half times the poverty rate, they'd start making payments, but those payments would be limited to no more than 10 percent of their annual income. And after 240 monthly payments, including those $0 months, the remaining balance of the loan would be forgiven, with no tax penalty.

Castro also wants to see an expansion of the Pell Grant program, with higher grant awards that could be used for living expenses, summer programs, and emergencies while students are in college. Beyond that, he wants to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to help more people (which should be easy since it's currently helping roughly zero of them), to forgive loans for people who fall into poverty, and -- this is huge -- to finally allow people to "discharge or structure a payment plan for student loans through bankruptcy." It's insane that bankruptcy doesn't affect student loan debt -- thanks a hell of a lot, lobbyists.

There's other neat stuff, like making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program a lot easier to understand, including prefilling the form with parents' tax information that's already on file. Anyone with college-aged kids knows about FAFSA Stress. (Along related lines, how about we do the same for people's 1040s, huh? Oh, how the tax prep industry would howl. Fuck 'em.)

For public school teachers, Castro calls for tax credits that would mean between $2,000 and $10,000 more income a year, with the really big tax incentives going to teachers working in high-poverty areas, to combat the loss of good teachers and attract teachers where they're needed most. Castro also wants to use teacher residencies, grants, and loan forgiveness to encourage innovation at schools that serve primarily poor and minority communities. In addition, he would fight the school-to-prison pipeline by demanding disciplinary reforms, like not using cops to enforce discipline, requiring unconscious bias training for all school personnel, and moving toward "positive, evidenced-based disciplinary practices" to reduce the phenomenon of minority students getting disciplined far more harshly than white kids. Maybe actually bringing back civil rights lawsuits in education would be a good idea, too!

Castro estimates his ed plan would cost around $1.5 trillion over a decade, which is conveniently what would be gained by eliminating the Trump tax cut, which, like Kamala Harris, Castro has already called for.

All in all, it's a pretty neat set of proposals, and we're glad to see other candidates joining Elizabeth Warren on the policy plan bandwagon. Castro told the Texas Tribune that Warren has been a good example to the whole 2020 Democratic field:

"I give credit to Sen. Warren. She's come up with compelling policies in a number of areas, but so have others," Castro said, citing Cory Booker's proposal to combat gun violence and Kamala Harris' ideas to boost teacher pay. "All of us have a role to play in moving the conversation forward on the policy that's going to make us more prosperous in the years to come."

Castro also said he likes Beto O'Rouke's climate plan, and that he'll be releasing one of his own soon. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend! And let no one's life be ruined by student debt in any of 'em.

[Julián Castro campaign / Texas Tribune / Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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