For his tuition-free college plans and more money for poor school districts, Biden needs Congress on board

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President-elect Joe Biden wants to eliminate tuition for all students at community college and for families earning under $125,000 at four-year public colleges and universities. He’s also proposed doubling funding on Pell Grants, tripling federal spending on low-income school districts and boosting the money the government spends on special education.

But all of those big plans depend on which party holds the reins of the Senate.

At the Education Department, Biden has vowed to use his regulatory powers to restore a wide range of Obama-era policies that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has gutted. In many cases, that will require a Biden administration to rewrite rules or seek to postpone DeVos’ rules — a process that the Trump administration has fumbled more than once. Federal courts have blocked DeVos’ attempts repeatedly.

Biden has vowed to restore Obama-era regulations and policies aimed at cracking down on abuses by for-profit colleges. That includes the now-dead “gainful employment” regulation that cut off federal funding to low-performing college programs and the “borrower defense” rule, which governs debt relief for defrauded students.

Biden also pledged to put a “quick end” to DeVos’ new Title IX rules governing sexual misconduct at schools and colleges. And Biden has said he would restore Obama-era protections for transgender students that the Trump administration withdrew.

Biden likely will face pressure from the left on widespread student debt cancellation, which has emerged as a major priority of progressives in recent years. Biden has called for canceling $10,000 in debt for all borrowers as an immediate coronavirus pandemic relief measure and has a more targeted plan to forgive certain types of student loan debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000.

Proponents of sweeping debt relief, including Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, have said that the Education Department has the authority to provide student debt relief on its own without Congress. Advocates for debt relief say that view was bolstered by President Donald Trump’s decision over the summer to unilaterally extend student loan protections without congressional approval.

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