Education is arguably the most important service our government provides. We need to educate our citizens so that each person has an equal chance to reach their full potential and become productive members of our society. The development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills will make our businesses and workforce stronger, and give every family the chance to live the American Dream.
Our nation is facing an educational crisis. States continue to cut real funding for both K-12 schools and public universities and technical colleges. The Trump administration is waging an all-out war on our schools, threatening our future with policies that seek to undermine our entire public education system. Wisconsin’s ranking for investment in education is sinking.
We have to reverse this trend. Our public education system needs to be strengthened and protected.
1. Invest in the Foundation -- Teachers and Students
Over the last decade we’ve seen states like Wisconsin slash funding for K-12 education to pay for unsustainable tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. We’ve seen class sizes skyrocket while teacher pay plummets, and our children have been left to bear the burden.
As a country, we must reinvest in the education of our youth. We need to ensure equitable funding across districts and provide students in lower-income areas the same educational opportunities as students in wealthier school districts. Public education needs to be a higher priority when we develop governmental budgets. We may need designated funding sources to ensure our schools are fully funded in a sustainable manner.
We need smaller class sizes. We need professional, qualified teachers who are compensated fairly in order to maintain quality and compete for the best talent. We need to adequately fund school buildings, libraries, music and art education, transportation and special education. We need to recognize the long-term benefits of a massive investment in our public education system. Our teachers do incredible, difficult work, and it’s shameful how little money most teachers make. We need to raise teacher pay, and strengthen their collective bargaining rights.
We also need to ensure that employers who benefit from an educated workforce are paying their fair share. Companies rely on a well-educated workforce to compete in the global economy, and they should contribute to the development of that workforce.
2. Solve the Student Debt Crisis
When I was in college, I was able to pay tuition from the wages I earned at my summer job. Today, that's no longer a possibility for students. With staggering increases in tuition and housing costs on campus, the majority of students seeking higher education have to go into massive debt. Most college graduates are leaving school with the equivalent of a house or car payment without an actual house or car. Not only is this a burden on those students, this debt is a major drag on the economy, slowing down growth and development.
Students need to be able to borrow at market rates, not at the arbitrarily high interest rates set by the federal government. Instead of cutting loan forgiveness programs, we should be dramatically expanding them. We should make it a priority for as many students as possible to have their loans forgiven. Not only do we need to expand forgiveness programs, we should allow students to refinance their debt and save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of their loans. Repayment plans based on income levels can also alleviate the burden for new college graduates. Education is a public good that benefits all of us, and it’s time we got back to investing in it.
3. Prepare Our Students For Life in the Age of Technology
The technology shift is coming and we must prepare for it. We need to train our
workforce based on the realities of the job market after they graduate. Automation, robots, AI, it's all coming. But, that can mean great opportunity for people if they're trained and ready to capitalize. We live in a time where technology is rapidly changing and improving. We have to integrate technology into the learning process to prepare our kids for the realities of our future.
STEM programs will help prepare our students for the jobs they’ll be applying for after they graduate. To accomplish this, they’ll need to have access to new technology and new ways of learning in and out of the classroom. We need to earmark funds at the federal level to help our schools get up to speed. If we can ensure states have adequate funding to invest in STEM programs, then our students will be prepared for life in the rapidly evolving world we now live in.
Too many schools in America don’t have the infrastructure they need to prepare students for this impending shift. From schools that are literally crumbling, to those without access to broadband internet, they’re in desperate need of updating. Now is the time to reinvest in our education infrastructure and ensure every student has access to facilities and technology that foster learning in new and creative ways.
4. Jumpstart the Trades Pipeline
Four-year programs aren’t right for everyone, and the trades are searching for new talent. Careers in the trades both pay well and support families. We should focus on making programs for these careers more accessible and part of the conversation about revamping our education system. I fully support making public two-year colleges completely taxpayer funded with the goal of eventually expanding to all public universities.
In too many places, electives like shop class, music and art are being cut out of classrooms as schools look to try and balance ever-shrinking budgets. Cutting these classes leaves students behind who excel in them, and studies show that all students do better in every subject when they are in art and music programs.
5. Adapt to Each Student’s Unique Learning Style
One of the reasons I believe our public education system comes under so much attack is that it’s incredibly difficult to measure the impact our educators have on their students. We all can remember that one teacher who made a profound impact on our life.
Mental health is increasingly becoming an issue that isn't properly being addressed in our schools. We need to train our educators in spotting mental health struggles and ensure our schools have access to the resources they need.
We need to begin implementing long-term studies and more effective methods of measurement than standardized testing. President Bush’s “No Student Left Behind” policies had admirable goals, but sought to achieve them in misguided ways. Excessive standardization of our education system takes away opportunities for teachers to adapt to each student’s unique learning style. Let’s stop forcing teachers to “regress to the mean.”
Reading comprehension is the one of the main keys to learning. Scientists, as well as teachers, are beginning to understand that reading comprehension skills are most effectively learned between the ages of five and eight years old. Studies show this to be a crucial window of time. Students who are able to successfully hone their reading comprehension go on to achieve greater academic success than students who are unable to do so.
In summary, our teachers are only able to be effective when they have the tools and resources they need. I hear from far too many teachers who have to pay for their own classroom supplies, or aren’t able to afford their own supplies. This causes both teachers and students to suffer. America is the richest country on the planet. We can and should provide our teachers and classrooms with the supplies they need to ensure every student can be successful.