The Current Reality
There is no better place to invest in our country’s future than education; yet, somehow we consistently fail to target education with our substantial resources.
During the pandemic, that failure to properly invest in our education system is leading to major detrimental effects: shortages of teachers, children missing out on key development opportunities, college students struggling to have basic needs met, and more. Our current officials are obviously not prioritizing key pillars to empower our communities – this includes education. We must prioritize our schools, as the compounding benefits they provide from promoting public health to combating inequality will exceed our wildest dreams.
The quality of education ties directly to the quality of the teachers, and the quality of teachers ties directly to their quality of life. If we want our teachers to perform well, we need to create a system that allows it. Teachers have one of the most stressful professions, on par with nurses and doctors. A fifth of our nation’s teachers works second jobs to make a living, while they correct homework and build lesson plans for over twenty students per class. The average teacher’s salary has decreased since 1999, and over 70% of our teachers are women, addressing our teachers’ pay goes beyond serving their well-being and enhancing education – it is a crucial element of eliminating the gender wage gap.
While providing our teachers with the backing they deserve, we need to make sure as many people have access to education as possible, starting in early childhood. This is not a pipe dream, nor does it come from an unreasonable place: the economic benefit of Universal Pre-K is approximated at $83 billion. Universal Pre-K both increases parental labor force participation, and creates an offsetting decrease in the use of public assistance. Each $1 invested in Universal Pre-K is estimated to create $2.60 more.
Our K-12 and Post-secondary education systems also need massive reconstructions. Schools are held back by restrictive standardized testing requirements that constrain both students and teachers; the only guarantee we get from college is debt, yet many jobs require that applicants have degrees even when the job doesn’t truly need it. By reshaping for free public college education – much like the G.I. Bill did for over 7 million veterans after World War II – we can foster an inclusive middle class and create socioeconomic benefits that far outweigh the cost.
Finally, our students deserve the highest levels of safety, tolerance, and well-being, regardless of where they live. This means re-shifting school discipline to a restorative justice method, which has led to sizable reductions in violent disorderly conduct (up to 65%), and teaching “soft” skills such as empathy and conflict resolution so students are equipped with multiple forms of intelligence upon graduation. Similar approaches have been successful internationally, and are worth integrating here, even if in a pilot approach.
What Needs To Be Done
- Restore the role of the Teacher to the respect it deserves.
- Offer universal education programs that span a lifetime.
- Solve the student loan crisis.
- Create safer, more inclusive schools that foster empathy amongst students.
- Encourage Human-Centered Schooling.
- Remove the stigma around public schools that they are inferior to private schools.
How We Plan to Do It
Restore Respect for Teachers and Staff:
- Raise teachers’ salaries so they don’t have to work second jobs in addition to Universal Income as part of our Floor to Stand On initiative.
- Increase budgets to expand the size of staff and their salaries in schools and colleges.
- Set a bare minimum of $65,000 salary for staff workers with Master’s degrees in public higher education institutions.
- Eliminate racial and gender disparity in teachers’ salaries.
- Initiate a federally subsidized teaching training program for people of color to help create more teachers from diverse backgrounds to have a positive impact on students of color.
- Create a federal program to fund classroom materials.
- Solve our public schools’ over-reliance on local property taxes for funding, increasing stability and equality nationwide.
- Reduce national standardized testing and its impact on teacher evaluations.
- Provide freedom and time for teachers to explore new ideas and academic topics not based on standardized tests and standard curriculum.
Universal Public Education:
- Create a national Universal Pre-K program.
- Offer free public college and improve efficiency and training programs within trade schools.
- Provide equitable funding for public school systems with federal subsidies, especially for schools and staff that serve disproportionate numbers of students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students from families with low incomes.
- Expand magnet programs into public schools within low-income areas to enable them to receive additional funding from school districts and help improve educational quality for students.
- Fund continuing education, including free coding boot camps and financial literacy courses.
Solve the Student Loan Crisis:
Safer, More Inclusive Schools:
- Encourage schools to focus on restorative justice measures, rather than punitive ones such as suspension and expulsion that leave at-risk students even further behind.
- Invest more in proven early intervention programs and effective door locks for classrooms.
- Support bills like H.R. 4442, Green New Deal for Public Schools Act, to provide much-needed resources to address school maintenance issues and foster more inclusive schools.
- Implement bills such as H.R.4332, Safe Schools Improvement Act, to strengthen protection for students in the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Support bills such as H.R. 4011, the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, which would replace school officer programs with more proven effective counseling
- Increase the number of full-time counselors, psychologists, and nurses for students in schools and colleges.
Encouraging Human-Centered Schooling:
- Guide schools to implement “SEL” curricula, teaching emotional intelligence skills such as interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, mental well-being, and empathy.
- Ensure that all students know their rights in school to have control of their education.
- Mandate inclusion of financial literacy education in public schools.
- Ensure that physical, health, arts, and music education do not fall prey to budget cuts.
- Prioritize robust special education programs in public schools.
- Create a permanent federal program to fund emergency aid to students and ensure aid is delivered equitably and efficiently.
- Improve data sharing efforts and reduce administrative barriers to ensure that students are fully aware of all the resources they may be eligible for.
- Establish a permanent free and quality meal program for students.
- Provide more funding to expand robust programs and centers to provide college students with basic needs such as affordable housing and other vital services like financial aid and mental health.
What This Will Do For Us
By overhauling our currently antiquated education system from establishing a Universal Pre-K program to canceling the student debt crisis, we can embolden our students, teachers, parents, and communities to realize that another world is possible. We can equip children with the tools to solve problems through empathy and compassion. By truly investing in a twenty-first-century education, we can provide tangible ways for people to build socioeconomic wealth and live longer. Most importantly, education can truly become a vehicle for everyone to secure fulfilling and rewarding lives.