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HOUSTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden unveiled his first major policy proposal on Tuesday before one of the nation's largest teachers unions.
The former vice president's education plan would triple funding for schools with a high percentage of low-income students. It would double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses and other health professionals in schools. It would also provide universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
"There's no debate about what needs to be done, about whether or not a child starting off in kindergarten or first grade is behind the eight ball," he told more than 200 Houston-area teachers at a town hall meeting sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers.
As part of his education plan, he also called for "rational" gun laws, saying it was not acceptable for gun violence to be a routine part of American life. To that end, he called for bans on certain military-style guns and ammunition, which he included in the 1994 crime bill he helped pass as a U.S. senator from Delaware.
Some of his Democratic rivals have critiqued the 1994 bill, while President Donald Trump, seeking to foment doubts among progressives about Biden, has taken to slamming Biden's role in the law while touting his own enactment of bipartisan legislation easing federal sentencing rules.
As part of his education plan, Biden also called for increasing teacher pay, though he stopped short of setting a benchmark. "Look, you all went to college. You spent four years. You ended up in debt, and you end up in a situation where you're making 25 percent less than most college graduates," Biden said.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 Democratic rival, said last month that her specific teacher-pay proposal would raise average teacher salaries by $13,500, roughly closing the gap between teachers and the average college graduate.
Biden was one of several candidates who have attended town hall-style meetings put on by the teachers union. However, he has made a particular pitch not just for union voters, but also to teachers.
Biden noted this month that more than 8,000 teachers contributed to his campaign in the first month since announcing he announced his candidacy — the largest number of any single occupation.
On Tuesday, Biden also proposed reinstating an Obama administration directive encourage desegregation strategies and provide grants to create plans.
The provision is notable in light of criticism over Biden's opposition to busing as a method to desegregate schools as a first-term senator in the early 1970s.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Juana Summers in Washington contributed to this report.
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