As a product of our public school system in the 8th District, I believe that every child should have access to a high quality public-school education. If we are serious about every child’s future, we must invest in the success of all of our students. We must even the playing field for all children in order to close the opportunity gap. Giving every child a fair shot – no matter their race or socioeconomic status – is essential to building a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.
We should focus on investing in smart, proven strategies that we know will improve the lives of students, while also supporting innovative policy that will confront our education system’s most deeply-rooted issues. Investing in our public schools to reduce class sizes, providing ongoing teacher training, and increasing the cultural responsiveness of our public-school system is our duty. By funding early learning programs, we can set every child up with a foundation for success. We must also adequately fund the mental health services that are necessary for all students to succeed. And, by focusing on apprenticeship programs, coursework that develops practical skills, and preparation for higher education, we can better set students up for success in college and in the job market.
Education beyond high school is increasingly out of reach for a growing number of young Americans, despite their hard work and desire to learn. Poor and middle-class families continue to face barriers to higher education for their children, which contributes to a lack of social mobility. Three-quarters of all jobs today require more than a high school diploma, and the average worker with a bachelor’s degree now earns $1 million more over their lifetime than the one who only completed high school. Student loan debt is now greater than credit card debt in America, and that is simply unacceptable.
If we are committed to giving all our children an equal shot at the American Dream, we need to fix the system. Congress needs to make college more affordable. First things first, we need to reinstate year-round Pell Grants, so that the deck is no longer stacked against students who come from disadvantaged families. We also need to solve the mounting crisis of student loan debt. We’ve got to lower interest rates on school loans and streamline students’ repayment plans.
This issue is personal to me — I myself have student loans, and understand what this burden means for real working people. I believe it is important to have members of Congress who understand how these policies affect the everyday people that they represent.
We need to ensure that our students can compete in a 21st century workforce. The United States was once first in the world in college completion; now, we don’t even make the top ten. America is falling behind in the race to educate our children. Solving this problem is not just the right thing to do – it is necessary for our future.
Any responsible approach to higher education has to include technical and trade schools. We should recognize that, while many students should go to college, not everyone needs to. University may not be right for all kids, especially considering the time commitment, financial burden, and academic demands that four-year colleges place on their students. As educators and public servants, we need to promote and fund alternative options that put high school graduates on new paths to success.