Pre-K-16 Education

Education is touted as the great social equalizer. It has been identified as an avenue for professional and economic advancement. Acknowledging such opportunities, institutions and governments around the world have declared that education is a human right. Despite these pledges, the right to a free and fair education is not a federally guaranteed constitutional right in the United States, which results in a system that bestows these academic and economic benefits discriminately.

 

If we are to emerge from the pandemic with hope, it will be because we've made sure that the quality of schools don't depend on property taxes. It will be because we've stopped penalizing students and teachers because of standardized tests. It will be because we've lifted the burden of student loan debt. It will be because we've unlocked opportunities for advancement for everyone.

• Guarantee education as a human right under the US Constitution

• Free Pre K-16 education

• Federal subsidies for graduate degrees

• Cancel student loan debt

• Abolish federal standardized test mandates

• Universal school meals

• Strengthen Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

• Challenge state truancy laws

• Moratorium on for-profit charter schools

• Federal investments in school infrastructure

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Guarantee Education as a Human Right

Education is not a right protected under the federal constitution. A constitutional amendment lays the framework for the federal government to play a larger role in education: equitable funding, strong investments in school infrastructure, incentives for best practices.

Free Pre K-16 Education

If we are to realize any sort of advancement, that advancement must start with investments in education. It is no longer adequate to cap those investments at the twelfth grade. We must expand education investments and include Pre-K and college and subsidize graduate degrees. Every investment made in education yields an improvement in health and earnings. We're a better, happier, more productive country if we're all educated.

Cancel Student Loan Debt

Minimum wage workers cannot afford rent in any state in the country. In New Jersey, workers must make over $30.00 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. When they "pull themselves up by the bootstraps," they are faced with a lifetime of student loan payments - student loan payments that are bleeding into our seniors' years of retirement. This burden has caused workers to delay starting a family or purchasing a home and this burden has forced workers to work multiple jobs. We were not meant to work ourselves to the point of exhaustion. I imagine a country that invests in the talents of its people and doesn't treat education as a privilege.

Abolish Federal Standardized Test Mandates

Students’ standardized test scores are tied to teacher effectiveness ratings – if students score poorly, their teachers do too. This may seem logical, and one might think this incentivizes teachers to perform better, but it neglects to consider the fact that teachers, no matter how qualified they are, no matter the interventions they implement, cannot completely overcome students’ social factors like poverty, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare that contribute to worse standardized test scores. This practice incentivizes teaching-to-the-test and sterilizes education.

High-stakes decisions are made from standardized tests: scholarships, class placements, and college acceptance, and they require students to demonstrate their proficiency in a prescribed format, in a prescribed medium, and within a prescribed amount of time. Because of this, they often forfeit the opportunity to measure what students do know.

 

Perhaps the point is most effectively summarized by Ladson-Billings:

'A telling example of this mismatch between what schools measure and what students know and can do is that of a 10-year-old African American girl who was repeatedly told that she was a poor math student. However, the girl was living under incredible stresses where she was assuming responsibilities. She handled all household responsibilities, including budgeting and paying all the household bills. According to others, she could not do fourth-grade math, but the evidence of her life suggests she was doing just fine with adult math.'

Strengthen IDEA

The IDEA passed in 1975 with the promise to provide a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. This promise was accompanied by a commitment for federal funds that have not been fully satisfied since its passage. This undermines schools' ability to provide such an environment and the effects are detrimental. In 2018, the National Council on Disability released a report which highlighted these damages: "Students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of funding issues, which can include delays in evaluation or rejection of requests for independent educational evaluations, inappropriate changes in placement and/or services, and failures to properly implement individualized education programs." The original IDEA had committed 40% towards the costs of educating students with special needs. Passed nearly 50 years ago, 40% is the minimum we must commit. 

Challenge State Truancy Laws

Some states are using truancy to penalize school districts. This approach fails to recognize the economic challenges many families are facing - challenges that force many students to assume household responsibilities like the story of the girl doing the household budget. Rather than penalizing students, we're going to rectify the issues that are preventing some students from attending.

Federal Investments in School Infrastructure

In 2018, the Batesville School District retained faculty by raising wages. This was accomplished by upgrading to carbonless energy which saved more than $1,000,000.00 in only two years. Federal grants should help school districts achieve similar goals because the benefit is reciprocal: the federal government makes progress towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions, new green jobs are created, school districts benefit from upgraded infrastructure, and teachers are retained with higher wages.