As the mother of three children, I know there’s nothing more important than investing in the next generation of Kentuckians and ensuring that all school employees and higher education personnel have the resources they need to thrive. Here’s how we have to do that:
Invest in our Kids
Only 50% of Kentucky kids arrive at Kindergarten ready to succeed in school. This has far-reaching effects, well into high school, college and career. To give young Kentuckians the best shot in life, we must:
- Provide universal access to free pre-K or Head Start so that every child has a high-quality early education experience.
- Children who attended Head Start pre-K have a higher likelihood of graduating high school, attending college and receiving a post-secondary degree, license or certification.
- Children who attended pre-K have better behavioral outcomes and better social-emotional skills.
- Fully fund public schools. All our schools need to be fully staffed and have access to the resources and the technology necessary for every child to have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their background or where they live. Taxpayer money should not be diverted to private or charter schools. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, enabled by Sen. Mitch McConnell, has repeatedly threatened public education with vouchers, funding charter schools with public money and private school tax credits. We need to stop their efforts to do so immediately.
- Invest more broadly in creating access to affordable broadband via a 21st century equivalent of the Federal Aid Highway Act, which created the interstate highway system, so that every student has the ability to learn and work effectively from home. With support from the federal government, expanded broadband will give Kentuckians in rural areas access to online higher education opportunities that they are currently not afforded and will expand the availability of university-based medical, dental and legal services across the commonwealth.
- Fund, at the federal level, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that schools can increase support staff and reduce class size and caseloads when delivering services to students with disabilities.
- De-emphasize standardized testing results when evaluating both students and schools. The misplaced weight put on standardized testing has led to an increased amount of “teaching to the test” with less time and fewer resources devoted to ensuring a positive learning environment for every child, teacher, and support staff member.
- Provide the needed federal funding to close the estimated $23 billion funding gap between majority white and majority non-white school districts
- Create federal grants for the explicit purpose of helping our poorest school districts invest in infrastructure updates so that every child can go to a school with functioning HVAC systems, clean water, functioning internet and computers
Take Care of Our Educators
Teachers and support personnel are the backbone of our education system. They should be compensated fairly and given the tools they need to help students succeed. At the federal level, we should:
- Repeal the WEP and the GPO (Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset). No contributor should receive reduced benefits because of a career in public service as a school, state or local government employee. There is a bipartisan bill addressing the repeal of the WEP and GPO sitting on McConnell’s desk that he will not even put on the Senate floor for debate.
- Protect educators’ pensions by ensuring that state governments are adequately funded and can fulfill their pension obligations and give educators the retirement benefits they’ve earned and paid into. McConnell said he will not provide funding to state and local governments struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic if those funds can be used to shore up their pension systems. He suggested that states should be allowed to go bankrupt instead.
- Ensure states cannot break existing contracts and slash previously pledged pension benefits for educators and other public-sector employees.
- Support passage of S. 1401, known as the ESP Family Leave Act, which provides that all ESPs who work more than 60% of the total monthly hours expected for their specific role can access benefits.
Make College Affordable
While college degrees have become increasingly necessary to succeed in the job market, higher education costs have increased eight times faster than wages, making it impossible for many young Americans to get the education they need without taking on massive high-interest loans. We can address this by:
- Creating a voluntary, paid National Service Program that allows students to earn a debt-free higher education. The program would be a contract giving young Americans the opportunity to serve their country for one or more years, meeting some of our nation’s most pressing needs—by teaching in high-needs schools or serving in rural health care clinics, for example—in exchange for an educational benefit equal to four years of average in-state tuition where their college is located. Read more about the National Service Program.
- Expanding student loan forgiveness programs. Under Betsy Devos’ leadership, the Department of Education has rejected 99% of people who applied for public service loan forgiveness. We need to expand eligibility for this program, simplify the process for applying and create an initiative to educate students on the program.
- Funding public universities at the federal level. State and federal funding for universities has declined significantly, which has caused increased tuition rates while real wages have remained stagnant. Declining state funding for higher education is the primary driver of rising tuition, responsible for 79% of tuition hikes at public universities.
- Increasing funding for HBCUs to ensure they can continue to offer affordable education.
Prepare our Workforce for the Jobs of the Future
According to a 2017 survey, over 40% of Kentucky companies said they need more employees with bachelor’s degrees, and more workers with industry or professional certifications. But only about half of Kentucky’s workforce has an education beyond high school. The biggest shortages are medical professionals, engineers and skilled tradespeople.
To mend the education-to-workforce pipeline, we should:
- Subsidize employers to provide internships for young adults from underserved communities for real, hands-on experience.
- Coordinate public education and training curriculums with the business community and individuals on the ground in our communities who know what works.
Give Our Schools the Resources the Need to Adapt to COVID-19
For our students, especially the most vulnerable in our country, online learning has led to significant losses academically. To provide schools with the necessary resources to get students back in the classroom safely, or to facilitate robust distance learning when necessary, we should:
- Provide significant funding to state and local governments so they are not forced to cut funding for schools.
- Prioritize equipping schools with the infrastructure changes (e.g. HVAC systems), PPE and strategic support needed to potentially reopen this fall.
- Provide each state the funds and support required to test-and-trace its population so each community has the information it needs to make decisions about whether or not to hold in-person classes.
- Allow local districts to make a choice about whether to reopen schools based on public health guidance and the state of the pandemic on the ground. Do not make federal funding dependent on school district’s decisions about how to proceed safely.
- Redouble our commitment to making broadband accessible to every household so if online learning must continue, students have the resources needed.