Democrat — MO 2nd District

Education and Student Debt

Summary:

  • Public school educational opportunities in America today are basically a function of the wealth of neighborhoods. That’s an injustice. And it’s an insult to anyone who believes America should be a land of equal opportunities. The federal government needs to do more (financially and legally) to level the education playing field.
  • We are doing college students a tremendous disservice by telling them about the virtues of higher education – but looking the other way as they delve deeper into staggering debt. We need a national policy that immediately addresses the student-debt crisis. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 proposal is an outstanding place to start.
  • Congress needs to lead a national conversation regarding the virtue of vocational and technical education. College isn’t for everyone. Vocational and technical education is not a lesser alternative to college, but an equal alternative to college.

Kindergarten to 12th Grade Education

The key problem with public K-12 education in America today is injustice.

Too many public schools across the country rely significantly upon property taxes in the district. So school districts with lower property values will end up funding their schools substantially less than districts with higher property values.

Compared to schools in wealthier districts, schools in poorer districts will have less money to spend on teachers. So classes are larger and teachers are not as experienced in the poorer district. Less money to spend on technology and equipment, so things like computers are older and less prevalent. Less money on extracurricular activities, so poorer kids miss out on activities like art or music or sports.

In much of America your public school educational opportunities are a function of your neighborhood’s wealth.

That is an injustice.

Almost as importantly, it’s horrendous policy for the future of this nation. What message does this send? And how can we in good conscience claim that America is a land of opportunity when we allow the quality of public education to be tied to something out of the control of students – the wealth of their communities.

“Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!” is what many Americans say. Thanks to the way we often fund public education, however, not all “bootstraps” are the same. Not even close. And in some of the more economically devastated parts of the country, these “bootstraps” are non-existent.

That’s wrong. And the federal government needs to do something about it. Here is where I’d start:

  • Congress needs to direct both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to bring lawsuits to states that are not guaranteeing equitable per pupil funding in public education. What we have now in some parts of the country is a violation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th amendment.
  • Congress needs to immediately connect federal education dollars to how a state is funding its school districts. Districts with more equitable funding formulas should receive more money than other states. States that are the most egregiously unfair in their funding across school districts shouldn’t receive a penny of federal money for education!

Higher Education

The first thing that we need to do with respect to education after high school is to realize that not everyone needs to go to college! In fact, outstanding career opportunities exist for those who attend technical and vocational schools.

But somehow we’ve allowed a bias to permeate that suggests that college is the only path toward success. This is nonsense.

As an educator in a community college, I see many students succeed at this level and transfer to four-year institutions. But I also see students who struggle tremendously. For many reasons, lots of these students would have been more suited in technical or vocational programs. But, often because of society’s bias and sometimes their parents’ demands, they jumped into a college program they had no real interest in. Success is then often hard to come by.

Congress needs to lead a national conversation that encourages technical and vocational education not as a LESSER alternative but as an EQUAL alternative to college!

This should also include careful examination of how other countries do it. Germany, for instance, offers a great blueprint of a national policy that recognizes the value in technical/vocational education and the best ways of encouraging student success.

Student Debt

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

This is not our grandparents’ America because it is not our grandparents’ world. America needs to compete in a truly globalized economy where a highly educated citizenry and workforce has become a matter of national security.

Yet the nation has casually allowed our youth to fall deeper and deeper into student debt. The current numbers are harrowing: $1.45 trillion in student loan debt spread across over 44 million borrowers. The delinquency rate is at 11.2% and rising.

What message are we sending when we acknowledge the increasing necessity of an education, but put the financial burden squarely on the shoulders of our young?  Ignoring the crippling debt many American graduates face is reprehensible. And not striving to do something about it is unconscionable.

We’re no longer just talking about private colleges and universities. State universities used to be very affordable. Those days are now long gone and a majority of public university students need financial aid.

It is not an exaggeration to call this a crisis. It can only be adequately addressed with a bold plan. Personally, the best plan that I’ve come across was Hillary Clinton’s proposal in the 2016 election. Among its key points:

  • Refinancing federal student loans by cutting the interest rates roughly in half (also ensuring the federal government does not profit further from student loans).
  • Making refinancing available to borrowers with private student loans that are current on their payments.
  • Collapsing all income-based plans into one much broader and more generous plan that is straightforward and easy to enroll in.

In addition, as your representative I would encourage Congress to institute the following:

  • Payroll tax or other federal tax reductions to employers who assist their employees in reducing their student loan debt.
  • Greater pressure upon colleges and universities that receive any grant or research money from the federal government. If a college or university is receiving tax dollars from the American public, it has to be more generous in the financial aid it provides and more committed to keeping overall tuition costs low.
End Corruption. Demand reform.
Paid for by John Messmer for Congress.