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Our Smartest Investment
Education is at the core of the American Dream. It is the foundation by which we fulfill our collective promise to every student that if they work hard, they have a shot at reaching their dreams. Quality education powers economic mobility, helps to alleviate poverty, and ensures that opportunity is available to every student.
However, our government has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. Chronic underinvestment in our schools, teachers, and students over many decades and at all levels has allowed our competitors to leave us behind, and made an already unequal system more inequitable. Structural flaws, growing financial burdens, and inadequate support for students and families have prevented many from accessing quality education, from childhood to post secondary school. Our antiquated commitment to a K-12 system that starts some children ahead of others, and prevents many from continuing their education after high school has left our students and nation at a disadvantage.
We need a new commitment and a new approach that puts people first—one that sees the federal role in education as supporting a seamless continuum that begins before elementary school and continues after high school.
If the United States is to continue being a leader in the generations to come, it means we can’t afford to waste a single student. That begins with extending our commitment to pre-kindergarten learning, which research tells us is one of the most critical periods for childhood development. But we can’t stop there. We need to ensure every student in our public education system can graduate high school and put their foot in the door for college, vocational training, or a quality career. And it means that those who have committed to further their education in college aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that hampers their ability to start a family, buy a home, or launch their careers. We also have to make a new commitment to the thousands of teachers and support staff that guide and teach our children. We need to pay our teachers more, cut down on class sizes to foster individualized learning, and equip our educators and schools with the resources they need to be successful.
Finally, we need to make a new commitment to ensure our schools are more fair and equitable to all students. At the onset of our public school system, one student’s success was valued over another. Although we ended sanctioned segregation in our schools many years ago, widespread disparities between students continue today. We can’t have integrated schools if our housing and communities are segregated. We also haven’t done enough to protect LGBTQ students, or ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to succeed in every community. It’s not enough to just invest in our schools and hope that inequities are repaired—we need targeted approaches that ensure all students have access to a quality education.
My People First Education plan would make a new commitment by the federal government to see that every student has access to a quality education—from pre-K through college and beyond.
My plan would help bridge the gap both in access and achievement by ensuring every student begins elementary school with a strong foundation, and leaves high school prepared for college or a good job. My plan would invest in our nation’s educators, and ensure that the teaching profession remains competitive and attractive for future generations. My plan would help mitigate chronic inequities between students, and extend our educational commitment to those whom it has been out of reach. And my plan would address the pervasive student loan debt crisis—both for those who are feeling crushed under insurmountable debt, and for those who have yet to enroll in higher education. These investments are not only helpful in addressing the long-standing problems in our education system, but are required if we are to remain a competitive leader in the generations to come.
Pre-K for USA: Making Pre-K the Foundation for Lifelong Learning
Decades of research has told us that a significant portion of childhood development begins prior to entry into kindergarten. These formative years lay the groundwork for the future health and success of our nation’s students. While competitors like Germany, Japan, and China have made significant investments in early childhood education and school readiness, the United States continues to trail behind, both on enrollment and quality of pre-K programs. In an increasingly competitive global economy, the United States cannot afford to leave our youngest students at a disadvantage. As the former Mayor of the city of San Antonio, I know first hand the benefits of investing in access to high quality pre-kindergarten education. I asked the residents of San Antonio to support a citywide pre-K initiative, ‘Pre-K for SA’, that has transformed our city’s education system, and delivered results for thousands of children and families that participated.
My People First Education plan aims to close the pre-K access gap, making high-quality preschool universal for 3- and 4-year-olds across the United States through a nationwide ‘Pre-K for USA’ program. This will require making a serious investment in existing local programs and expanding successful models to new communities, boosting training, education, compensation, and support for pre-K teachers across the country, and linking pre-K to kindergarten—ensuring the transition from early childhood education to elementary school is seamless. For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see up to $9 in return on investment. Investing in early childhood education isn’t just the right thing to do on behalf of our children, it’s an investment that we can’t afford not to make.
Reimagining High School
In an increasingly competitive global economy where the United States can’t afford to waste a single student, high school graduation remains critically important to both individual potential for success, and U.S. competitiveness around the globe. At around 85%, the U.S. graduation rate ranks behind many of our international competitors. To continue to remain competitive in the years to come, we should make sure every student can graduate from high school by targeting resources to students and schools where persistent gaps exist, and that graduates leave high school with the skills to succeed in universities, community colleges, apprenticeship programs, or in their careers.
My People First Education plan would help students get their foot in the door to college by expanding access to college credits and accelerated learning opportunities. My plan would ensure that students have the flexibility and support to pursue careers in trade, and would encourage high schools to partner with employers to help students obtain work-based learning opportunities after they graduate. Additionally, my plan would support and encourage students interested in opportunities in the arts and language—strengthening programs that celebrate cultural and language learning that are required in an interconnected global economy.
Creating Affordable Pathways to Success After High School
The student loan debt crisis has now topped $1.5 trillion, surpassing both auto loan debt and credit card debt, nationally. As states have picked up less and less of the bill for public universities and colleges, tuition rates have skyrocketed to defray the costs—driving students to take out thirty, forty, fifty, and even a hundred thousand dollars in loans just to get their undergraduate degrees. To make matters worse, the federal government has failed to adequately step in to support students and universities—pushing more and more students towards costly loans that can at times be predatory. Make no mistake: this is a crisis. More and more students are defaulting on their loans, tanking their credit for years to come. College graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to pursue advanced degrees, to buy a home or start a business, or to just keep up with their day-to-day bills. It’s time we break the work-school tug of war.
Serious problems like these deserve serious solutions. That’s why my People First Education plan would eliminate tuition at public universities, community colleges, and technical and vocational programs, expand grant programs and loan forgiveness programs to lower-income students, boost transparency and accountability of student loan programs, and institute an income-based repayment program that guarantees no student is paying more than their income allows. Students and graduates who have made a commitment to invest in their futures should see an investment from their government in return. My plan would make that investment, knowing it will pay off both for students and for our national prosperity in the long run.
Elevating the Profession of Teaching
Educators play a vital role in shaping the success of our students and the prosperity of our nation. They are the backbone of our education system, and shape the lives of their pupils from pre-K to college and beyond. And yet, too often, teachers are not fairly compensated for their critical work or equipped with the resources and facilities required to meet the needs of our students. Nationwide, nearly 80% of parents say their children’s teachers are underpaid and, adjusted for inflation, the national average teacher salary has decreased 4.5% over the last decade. This chronic underpayment and under-appreciation of our nation’s teachers has led to a severe drop in college enrollment in education programs, a high rate of teachers leaving the profession within five years, and a teacher shortage that some estimate is in the millions.
Additionally, the lack of sustained investment in our schools’ infrastructure has contributed to dilapidated school buildings and inequities in access to broadband internet—creating a multi-billion dollar gap between what is currently spent on education and what is needed to fully modernize our schools. My People First Education plan would end decades of under-investment in our nation’s teachers. It would help close the modernization gap in our school systems—ensuring properly-equipped teachers have the facilities and technology to foster quality learning. My plan would also help to ensure that teaching is an attractive profession to future generations—strengthening programs that incentivize teaching and attracting quality teachers that are representative of the diversity of our country to overlooked communities.
Fairness in Education
Despite the goal of our public education system to offer mobility and opportunity to all students, the status quo exacerbates, rather than alleviates, inequities that exist between students. Historic and stark disparities between rich and poor, black and white, documented and undocumented, and abled and disabled, are made worse by decades of underinvestment in a public school system that, in many ways, remains segregated. On top of these inequities, research tells us that race is a strong determinant in whether a student is suspended or expelled, and affects placement in gifted and talented programs. All of these disparities have led to an achievement gap between students—highlighting that a child’s race and social class are clear predictors of their potential for educational success.
My People First Education plan seeks to combat the inequities in our school system that exist from pre-kindergarten through college. My plan would take major steps forward in closing gaps both in access and achievement for students of color, it would extend protections against discrimination for LGBTQ students, it would boost diversity at universities and community colleges, and it would ensure that no student—regardless of their criminal history or immigration status—is prevented from obtaining a quality education.