Education & Workforce Development

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Creating a Brighter Future

Education is the only universal equalizer of opportunity in society today. Unfortunately, the U.S. education system, in its current iteration, is inequitable and creates severe disparity in opportunity by zip code. To ensure the opportunity for every single child succeed and guarantee the future strength of our nation, we must expand access to reputable preschool, link public school funding to need rather than community wealth, and offer a comprehensive curricula that focuses on the context of the realities in the 21st-century economy.

Affordable Preschool for All

Investment in early childhood education is critical to the success of our children’s and nation’s future. We know that children who attend preschool are less likely to dropout of high school, less likely to spend time on government assistance, and exponentially less likely to commit a felony, and yet our nation does not properly ensure that all children have this opportunity. These impacts are even more significant among at-risk youth, who are 40% more likely to become a teen parent and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime if they do not attend preschool.

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In addition to providing for our posterity, the Research and Policy Committee of the Committee for Education Development (CED) believes communities will see returns on their investment of preschool through long-term savings in health care, welfare, and crime as well as increased tax revenues and economic development.

Ensuring quality early education is affordable for all families isn’t just the right thing to do—it will improve social and educational outcomes for years to come.

Restructuring Public School Funding to Expand Opportunity to Underserved Communities

Although public school is currently funded by local communities, state governments, and the federal government, this funding is not equitable and is not structured to provide a quality K–12 education for all. I believe that students, regardless of their family’s income or zip code, deserve an education that serves the needs of children in the context of today’s society and that will prepare them for 21st-century careers. Rather than subsidizing opportunities for a limited number of students to attend private schools, equity in education requires supporting public schools and expanding opportunities for all children.

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In the United States, nearly half of all public school funding comes from local property taxes, leading to an inequitable system in which wealthier communities have better-funded schools. In underserved neighborhoods, where the need for proactive investment is greatest, the struggle to make ends meet is a key metric holding our children back. Although states have broad latitude to supplement education funding in communities with low property tax revenue, very few do so. According to the Education Law Center’s 2017 National Report Card, twenty-one states, including Texas, actually provide less state funding to high poverty school districts, thereby exacerbating the issue.

The problem grows in states with voucher programs, where districts may lose students and funding to private schools. Although school voucher proponents argue that the money “follows” the child, public school salary, utility, and maintenance bills are not reduced with the loss of students. As their funding shrinks, their costs remain constant. Schools faced with financial difficulties frequently must cut art and music programs, layoff faculty and support staff, and increase class sizes. Rather than providing limited opportunities for some parents to send their child(ren) to private schools, we must ensure that every public school offers students a high-quality education.

Public education is supposed to be “the great equalizer,” and yet many students receive better or worse educations based on their parents’ and community’s affluence. Education should be local, but its funding does not have to be. For all our nation’s students have an opportunity to succeed in our changing world, public school funding must be connected to their needs—not tied to their community’s wealth, or lack thereof, nor subject to shrink so private organizations can benefit.

Increasing Student Engagement

Students who are engaged in school are more likely to succeed, but not all schools have the funding to offer a rich curriculum designed to capture the interest and develop the passions of students. If we expect our students to work hard and invest in their own futures, we must ensure that their education is relevant to who they are and what they want to do.

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I support a full curriculum covering fine arts, science, math, history, civics, literature, foreign languages, and career and technical education. It is imperative that education cover skills necessary for a prosperous society—regardless of how “boring” or “difficult” or “cool” an individual might find some of them to be. The important thing is to expose students to the ideas in these subjects, develop some fundamental skills, and to allow them space to find a topic that feels relevant to them.

Preparing Students for 21st Century Careers

Beyond offering a diverse curriculum for students, we can increase student engagement by offering opportunities that are clearly relevant to their futures. Today’s economy has shifted significantly from a focus on agricultural and manual labor to a focus on technical skills. Curriculum that focuses education on the needs today’s economy are where federal investment should be directed. Specifically, federal investment needs to be leveraged to allow local school systems to offer curriculum in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and/or career and technical education (CTE) programs that educate and train our students for the jobs of the future, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs that prepare them for the rigor of college and professional career. By investing in these programs; developing critical thinking skills; and building bridges between schools, colleges, and local businesses, we will prepare our nation’s students for the 21st century.

Increased Investment & Opportunity in STEM

The number of STEM occupations in the United States has grown substantially over the past decade, with those working in STEM fields earning 29% more than their non-STEM counterparts. Our new economy will require workers skilled in science and math to maintain and grow our nation’s prosperity, and I believe American students should be adequately prepared to fill these roles.

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Our country has the resources and ability to offer the best education in the world, and yet we rank 22nd in science and 29th in math internationally. Some of our best and brightest will never even be exposed to proper science and math education, as more than 30% of our students attend high schools that do not offer the broadest spectrum of math and science courses (defined as Algebra I and II, geometry, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics). It is unacceptable for America to fall behind as other countries produce the scientists, mathematicians, and engineers that will lead our world into the future.

I am committed to a future in which all American students not only have access to fundamental math and science skills, but access to advanced STEM education. This will require school districts, universities, and STEM industries to support the training and retention of quality STEM educators through rigorous college programs, professional development, partnerships, and shared resources.

It would be a disservice—not only to our youth, but to our entire nation—to withhold from our students the opportunity to explore these promising fields.

Career & Technical Education

Career and technical education functions with and alongside STEM education to prepare students for their futures. In recent history, our schools have been intently focused on sending all students to four-year universities, but we seem to have forgotten that college graduates and high school dropouts and everyone in-between, unless you have inherited a giant fortune, virtually all Americans will someday need a job.

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We also frequently overlook the numerous respectable, necessary, well-paying careers that do not require a bachelor’s degree. In fact, the American Association of Community Colleges estimates that 1 of every 14 community college attendees already has a bachelor’s degree. Dr. Richard Rhodes, the president of Austin Community College, has witnessed this firsthand and asserts that many college graduates are enrolling at community colleges because they do not have the requisite skills to find a job in today’s economy. Although many jobs do require a bachelor’s degree or higher, the expectation that all students will be better off attending four-year universities is elitist and delusional.

Regardless of whatever a student decides to do after high school, whether it is attend a trade school, community college, a four-year university, start a business, or join the military, it is the responsibility of our public education system to ensure they are prepared for their future education and career. Career and technical programs can also help students determine their occupational interests and aptitudes. Dual enrollment, local articulation agreements, and statewide projects such as the ATC Texas Program offer college credit for advanced technical coursework in a variety of fields, such as automotive repair, cosmetology, agriculture, engineering, architecture, and computer programming.

To prepare students for any postsecondary path they choose, I support the development and expansion of career and technical education programs nationwide. They provide opportunities not only for our youth to explore different careers and learn skills, but also open the door for college– and business­–school partnerships that support teachers’ professional development and provide opportunities for field trips, internships, and the sharing of resources.

Federal Financial Aid

A system in which a college degree is a prerequisite to enter today’s economy – and thousands of dollars in student debt is a prerequisite to obtaining the degree – is immoral. Americans should have universal access to a post-high school education without it leading to five-figure debt accounts, and graduates who already have need viable options for loan forgiveness or discharge. At the same time, financial aid must support only institutions offering quality educations at honest rates to protect our students and ensure responsible government spending.

Affordable College for All

According to Pew Research, the primary reason half of all students either don’t attend college or dropout of college is because they cannot afford it. This current state of affairs is entirely unacceptable in a nation with our resources. A family’s capacity to pay should never be a barrier to obtaining a college degree.

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I propose that every student in the United States have the opportunity to attend and graduate from a public college or university within their state, regardless of their socioeconomic status. By limiting certain tax expenditures for the wealthiest citizens, we can make college affordable for all. Under my plan, families who make less than their state’s median income will pay no tuition at public colleges and universities within their state. Middle-class families who make more than the median income will see tuition subsidized at a graduated rate.

Financially supporting our nation’s students in their college endeavors is an investment in our future and a fulfillment of our promise to children that they can grow up to be anything they want to be.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Unfortunately, college tuition has skyrocketed in this country over the last decade. While Congress refuses to adequately address the issue, students continue to graduate with $37,000 in debt, on average. While I intended to make college more affordable for future college-goers, we cannot leave recent graduates saddled with this financial weight.

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Not everyone, however, agrees with me. Republicans in Congress have proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives remaining federal loan debt for borrowers who are employed full-time in a public service or non-profit job and who make on-time payments for ten years. This bill is an affront to hardworking Americans who have dedicated their lives to public service. When elected, I will fight not only against this bill, but for expanding opportunities for Americans to have their student loan debt forgiven through other service.

As part of this effort, I propose expanding the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. Currently, the program forgives a set amount of student loan debt for certified or licensed teachers working in low-income public schools for five years or more. Elementary school teachers can currently have up to $5,000 forgiven, while secondary school teachers in STEM or special education can have up to $17,500 forgiven.

Under my plan, public school teachers working in any underserved community, regardless of the area’s socioeconomic status, will be eligible for this program. Additionally, the ceiling for elementary school teachers will be raised to $10,000 for those with STEM degrees or working in special education. These changes to the existing program will support retention of quality teachers and promote STEM education in rural and other underserved communities.

Bankruptcy Reform

In some cases, Americans fall on hard times and are unable to repay their existing debts. Some choose to file for bankruptcy and attempt to have many of their debts discharged. Under current United States law, student loans are treated differently than medical or credit card debt and cannot be discharged, except in rare circumstances.

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Not all debt, of course, should be easily eliminated. For example, I believe that individuals who owe child support, taxes, or money on a house or car they currently own should be held responsible for those debts, even when filing for bankruptcy. And, of course, bankruptcy should be reserved only for extreme cases and protected against abuse.

In these extreme cases, however, when Americans must file for bankruptcy, student loan debt should be treated the same as medical debt or credit card debt and eligible for discharge. In fact, student loans are in the same broad category as these debts, called “unsecured” debts, but are treated like child support, which cannot be easily eliminated. For the wellbeing of our society debtors must be held responsible for his or her child(ren). Debt incurred from obtaining a post-high school education, however, is a vastly different issue and does not warrant the same special treatment.

All Americans should strive to borrow only what they can afford. At the same time, our society recognizes a need for bankruptcy proceedings and debt discharge. Especially considering the rapid escalation of college tuition in recent years, we must address student loan debt the same way we treat most personal debts and allow Americans, under extreme circumstances, the opportunity to have this debt eliminated.