U.S. Markets closed

Tom Steyer unveils education plan as he surges in South Carolina presidential poll

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer unveiled his education plan on Thursday, stressing the value of education to the economy.

“Education is the cornerstone of a just, democratic, and prosperous society,” the billionaire hedge fund manager said in a statement. “For too long, we have underinvested in our children and legislated inequities into the system that rob American students of the skills needed to thrive as participants in our democracy, society, and economy.”

Steyer’s plan comes amid a surge in the South Carolina primary polls, landing right behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. South Carolina’s primary will be held on Feb. 29.

The billionaire, who has spent more than $200 million of his own money on his presidential bid, currently stands at 18% in the early-voting state, in the poll done by the Post and Courier-Change Research of 1,360 likely primary voters, from January 26 to 29.

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer delivers remarks during a town hall event inside the Cider House venue on January 29, 2020 in Fairfield, Iowa. (Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

Steyer asserted that an investment in education would be the “smartest investment we as a society can make is in our people, and my plan will improve the quality of education every student receives regardless of zip code” and fix “decades of underinvestment and inequalities.” The plan proposes rolling back President Trump’s “unnecessary increases to defense spending” and redirect this money to double federal investment in pre-K to 12 education.

The plan touted some of Steyer’s achievements in California, from launching a food program for school children using food from natural California farms to being “instrumental” in passing a legislation called Proposition 39, which “awarded more than $1.7 billion over five years for schools to plan and install energy efficient upgrades.” 

Key highlights

- Increasing teacher pay: “Teachers deserve a salary commensurate with their experience and training.”

- Universal preschool

- Desegregation of schools, and tripling Title 1 funding, upgrading school facilities

- Cut dropout rate by half (by end of first term)

- Expand apprenticeships in high school for those that don’t want to go to college

- Improve STEM education

- Freeze charter school expansion

Democratic presidential hopefuls Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire-philanthropist Tom Steyer participate in the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign on December 19, 2019. (Photo: Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Steyer’s plan was in some ways novel, but the issue of charter schools was a sensitive one, one expert told Yahoo Finance.

“It’s encouraging to see another candidate release a comprehensive education plan,” Scott Sargrad, VP of K-12 education at D.C.-based think tank Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “The plan also includes a number of interesting proposals around civic engagement, media literacy, and reimagining schools.”

He added: “There does seem to be a missed opportunity to take a more balanced approach to charter schools and public school choice as a strategy to provide every child with a seat in a great school, by improving the federal charter school program rather than eliminating funding for all new charter schools.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager from California, was the first billionaire to officially run for the presidency against Trump, but his campaign has been partially overshadowed by multibillionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg jumping into the race and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on ads. (Forbes estimates Steyer’s net worth to be $1.6 billion.)

While Steyer’s father was a Wall Street lawyer, his mother was a school teacher, and the plan makes a point to state that: “Tom’s mother was a teacher in New York Public Schools and he understands the importance of public education to a just, democratic, and prosperous society.”

Steyer v. others

Steyer’s plan is not as detailed as his some of his Democratic rivals fellow, or as ambitious — both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders have proposed massive student debt cancellations — but Steyer’s framing of education as an economic driver stands out.

The plan also didn’t carry an estimate of how much his pre-K-12 education would cost, leaving the projected return on investment open-ended.

But Steyer’s plan did call for a reduction in defense spending which would be channeled to education and asserted that the country spends $100 billion more per year than in 2015, offering a hint to the price tag of his plan.

U.S. military spending is “astronomical and nonsensical,” Steyer declared, adding: “The security of our country depends not only on its military might but also on its economic competitiveness, and the skills and readiness of its people.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

Read more: 

Elizabeth Warren says she will cancel 42 million borrowers’ student debt — on Day 1

Bernie Sanders unveils sweeping student debt cancellation plan

Follow Yahoo Finance on TwitterFacebookInstagramFlipboardSmartNewsLinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.