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My plan for education

Our most fundamental responsibility as a nation is to provide a world-class education for every child, regardless of race, religion, economic status, or zip code. We are at our best when every child has equal access to opportunity. But we know — and data shows — that the potential of a life is overwhelmingly defined by early access to education. We must commit to providing universal early childhood education and ensure that all students have access to comparable — and top quality — elementary and high school education. We should do this not out of charity, but out of self-interest. The scientists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and political leaders who will take us into the future are in elementary school today. We owe it to ourselves to enable them to realize their full potential.

In too many communities children are robbed of a quality education precisely because of where they live and how much money their parents earn. They are denied opportunities that should be provided for all, but that are too often only available to kids in the next town, in the “nicer” community. Our ability to address this — to reaffirm that commitment to all of our children — has been hindered by the destructive policies of Donald Trump. His education secretary continues to weaken public education by taking resources from an already financially strapped system — responsible for more than 90 percent of our children — and redistributing them to private and for-profit schools.

While we have failed in our responsibility to provide equal educational opportunities to all children, the policies of the current administration also weaken the role of public schools as the backbone of American civics. Chipping away at the public school system has societal consequences. In an increasingly stratified society, elementary and high school education is the last bastion of true cross-community interaction; the place where we are truly integrated, sharing classrooms, locker rooms, and sports fields with students of every race, religion, and income level. Later in life, as interests, talents, and income levels diverge, we lose opportunities for interaction — but carry those memories, friendships and impressions with us. This was my experience. My high school graduating class was 50% African-American; the white students were predominantly Jewish. My college, graduate school, and professional experiences were not nearly as diverse, but the experiences from my formative years stayed with me. My wife Kara feels the same about her experience growing up in public schools, one of the many reasons we send our girls to public school in Downers Grove.

The government’s role should be to make the public school system as good as it can possibly be. It should not be to grease the paths for the most wealthy or  intelligent to exit the system. Current policy creates a race to the bottom, leaving the public schools with the hardest work and the fewest resources. We must recommit to providing universal and high-quality public education to all.

When it comes to higher education, the burden of student loan debt is crippling and can deter many from even considering college. Prior to 2005, individuals could discharge debt obligations through personal bankruptcy. Changes made in the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill effectively eliminated that option, on the logic that the low credit scores of many college freshmen coupled with high post-graduation earnings potential might create a “moral hazard” — an incentive for opportunistic use of the bankruptcy code. However, as the Brookings Institution noted in 2015, there was no subsequent reduction in bankruptcy filings after passage of the 2005 law. More precisely, the analysis did “not reveal responses to the 2005 bankruptcy reform that would indicate widespread opportunistic behavior by private student loan borrowers before the policy change.”

Listed below are legislative initiatives I support:

  1. I support significant expansion of early childhood education. Extensive research has shown that the potential of an individual’s life is overwhelmingly correlated with the quality of educational access available in the child’s first 6 to 8 years. Investments in early childhood education provide a much greater return on investment than later-stage interventions. In many cases, these investments set kids up for success, making subsequent interventions unnecessary. This is the right place for investment and support that will yield long-term social and financial dividends.
  2. I actively oppose any policies that direct public schools to adopt anti-scientific curricula. Evolution should be taught in public schools. So, too, for climate change and other settled scientific concepts and principles.
  3. I support a reintroduction of civics into middle and high school curricula. We have lost a shared understanding and teaching of American history and values. As school budgets have been slashed, reading, writing, and STEM have been preserved but often at the expense of arts, music, and social studies. This has left us with a wildly disparate set of opinions about what it means to be an American. We should require that all high school students graduate with a common understanding of U.S. history and civics.
  4. I support testing in schools for the purpose of student evaluation. I oppose testing for the evaluation of schools and teachers. Many schools have become too burdened with testing and reporting, distracting from teaching. Moreover, standardized testing often does not provide results in time to guide teachers in the classroom. A teacher recently asked me, “Who do you think of when I ask you about the teacher who most impacted you? What about when I ask about the standardized test that most impacted you?”Impactful teachers teach a set of lessons and life skills that don’t necessarily manifest in test results. Teachers know what good teaching looks like. Politicians generally don’t. We would never ask non-lawyers to decide who should pass the bar exam this year, or let non-doctors decide who should pass the medical boards, or let non-engineers decide who is licensed to inspect high pressure boilers. And yet politicians seem to believe that they are qualified to evaluate teacher performance. They aren’t.
  5. I support allowing any holder of student loan debt to refinance at current rates.
  6. I support linking Pell Grants to the rate of increase in college tuitions, so their value doesn’t diminish over time.
  7. I support an overhaul of the provisions in the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill, which has made it practically impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy. As the Brookings Institution notes, it is likely that the non-dischargeability of student loans increased the amount of loans available, so it may be more prudent to provide more robust rules around the “moral hazard” circumstances under which non-dischargeability may apply than to undo the provisions entirely.
  8. We need to increase our investment in STEM programs.
  9. I support programs enabling trade-path students. All students do not want or need a 4-year college degree. There are currently thousands of unfilled high-tech manufacturing jobs, and we need to provide the education and training to match students with those jobs.

Donald Trump has failed on education

  • Trump’s budget proposal includes $9.2 billion in cuts to education. The budget would drastically reduce or eliminate programs for teacher training and reduced class size, literacy programs, and subsidies to pay for the interest on student loans.
  • The Trump Administration has:
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