Issue: Of all the undervalued public goods in the United States, there is no question that none have been as thoroughly hollowed out, ignored, and abandoned as our public education system. Today, we live in a country where the quality of a child’s education is determined by where they’re born, and an immeasurable amount of human potential is lost in a tragic, unnecessary cycle of poverty. Public schools are funded largely based on local property taxes, and different states spend drastically different amounts per student.
This rigged system was created by the rich, for the rich, who send their children to private schools and publicly funded, privately operated charter schools that are unavailable to the vast majority of American students. The result is that despite desegregating our laws, we have not desegregated our classrooms - a student’s ethnicity and their income are still the two largest factors that determine the quality of education they receive. On average, California, Oklahoma, and Nevada spend only half as much money per student as New York, Alaska and Wyoming. In roughly half of America’s 100 largest cities, the majority of Latino and African American students attend schools where over three-quarters of students live in poverty. Currently, the United States students rank 23rd in science, 24th in reading, and 37th in math among the international community.
Upward mobility has stalled so severely, that for the first time in our country’s history, children are less likely to earn more money than their parents. Now, Trump’s proposed budget would cut the Department of Education’s budget by about $9 billion, eliminate funding for afterschool and summer programs, and training for teachers. Besides using the money they’d save to give tax breaks to the rich and increase military spending, our Secretary of Education would also like to spend another $250 million subsidizing private schools, and $168 million funding privately operated charter schools.
Proposal: In order to ensure that all children have access to quality education, we need a massive overhaul of our public funding mechanisms. We need to set a standard goal for every state to spend per student, and commit to desegregating classrooms by federally subsidizing public schools in districts with the lowest property values, and lowest spending per student. We need to allocate more funding in our budget to not only pay our teachers more, but to hire more of them so we can decrease the average classroom size. Teachers are tasked with one of the most important jobs in our country, that of building our future leaders. Our government does them a disservice by the way they treat them.
Further, we need public education to begin at a younger age, and end at a later age. Research shows that children who receive a pre-k education are better prepared for the rest of their educational careers, and that students who graduate from community college earn more than those with a high school diploma alone. If the United States is going to catch up to the rest of the world, we need to level the playing field for those who have been left behind by guaranteeing two years of pre-k education and two years of community college to every citizen, free of charge, regardless of their income.
Only once we provide a generation with the tools they need to contribute to our economy can we increase upward mobility and recapture the American dream for every student. Additionally, Congress needs to pass a comprehensive student loan reform and forgiveness bill. Graduates need the flexibility and freedom to find the job that is right for them in today’s rapidly changing economy, and our student loan system is hopelessly out of date. Loan payments should only kick in once graduates begin earning over a particular salary, and predatory interest rates on federal loans should be lowered. Additionally, those who decide to commit to lifelong careers in government or the nonprofit sector should have their loans completely forgiven by a certain date, after a series of low interest payments adjusted to their salaries. By guaranteeing schools and students the tools they need to succeed, we can pave the way for the next step in this vision - four years of public college for all.