MORE ON LIZ'S PLAN FOR STRONG SCHOOLS
Expanding Access to Early Childhood Education and Pre-K
Early childhood education and pre-K are critical to ensuring that our students come to elementary school ready to learn. We need to make high-quality child care and early learning more accessible for families.
I support Governor Holcomb and the Indiana General Assembly’s bipartisan efforts to expand access to pre-K through On My Way Pre-K, including the recently announced expansion to 15 more counties, including a number of counties in the ninth district. This strategic investment in our young people pays dividends for years to come. Children who attend pre-K outperform children who were not in pre-K programs in the early years, and they are more likely to get a high school degree and hold onto a job as adults. What’s more, their paychecks are higher, they are less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, and they have better health outcomes.
We can and should do more for our kids. For every dollar we invest in preschool, we see a $7 return on investment throughout a child’s life. Yet, Indiana ranks 40th in the nation in terms of preschool enrollment. Twenty-seven thousand low-income children in Indiana still lack access to pre-K programs.
I support the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bill in Congress that would give four-year-old children whose families earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold access to pre-K. This would help ensure that every family has the chance to send their children to school with a strong foundation.
It’s time to get away from the over-reliance on standardized tests that leads to teaching to the test instead of focusing on children learning the skills they need. The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act replaces No Child Left Behind. It takes the important steps of returning decisions about education to the local level. I am heartened that the Every Student Succeeds Act gives Indiana the flexibility it needs to set its own accountability measures for students and teachers. I hope this will lead to more freedom for teachers to teach, more time in the classroom spent learning, and less time spent on testing. I hope that, as Indiana develops its state plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act and ensure strong systems of accountability, all stakeholders will make their voices heard.
Keeping Public Funds in Public Schools
When taxpayer dollars are diverted to private schools through vouchers, this weakens our public schools. In 2016, vouchers took $131 million away from Indiana’s public schools, resulting in a cost to taxpayers of $53 million a year, further depressing Indiana teachers' already-low pay, and exacerbating the teacher shortage. We should pay our teachers well. They do some of the most important work there is. Yet, too many of our teachers struggle to support their families because their pay is so low. Moreover, our schools need the resources to provide the safety net function that they fulfill for families who are struggling in southern Indiana. The opioid crisis has left many children coming to school who are essentially parenting themselves. Children whose parents are suffering from substance abuse disorder may need access to counseling and other health services at school. Yet, counselors are too few and far between and our school nurses are often covering three and four schools each week, because we don't have the resources to put a nurse in every school. It's time to stop starving our teachers and our schools of the resources our children need to thrive. The public school funding challenges we face are a direct result of the school privatization movement across Indiana.
While vouchers have been billed as a means for students to leave so-called “failing schools” for private ones, only a tiny proportion of voucher users are leaving schools that the state calls failing. More than half of vouchers are going to students who have been in private schools their entire lives. Using public funds to pay the private school tuition of students from higher-income families, while leaving children from low-income families struggling to make do with less, hurts our schools, our kids, and our future.
Keeping public funds in public schools is critical to delivering on the promise that every child in this nation will have access to a free, appropriate public education. I support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. I believe it is critically important that we provide the resources to meet the needs of every child with disabilities in school, in the least restrictive environment. The advancement in the integration of students with disabilities into the general education setting has been a major step forward for civil rights in this country. We cannot go back.
I understand that many families have found a home in charter schools that have helped their children do well, and that many children in charter schools are thriving. On the whole, however, charter schools are a slippery slope into a two-tiered system of education. That's why, as a policy matter, I oppose any further expansion of charter schools. Charter schools have been a failed experiment, because they are largely unaccountable and lack transparency.
While they were intended to be hubs of innovation that would bring new ideas back to public schools, this has not happened on a consistent basis, and has not been the end result. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, which privatize public education dollars, and put them in the hands of for-profit entities and unaccountable management. They also threaten further segregation of our public schools. As a recent article notes, "Civil-rights groups, teachers’ unions, and parents have warned that further expanding the charter sector would fuel institutionalized segregation, particularly under Trump’s shadow: The administration’s drive to commercialize K12 education threatens to deepen the private sector’s reach into under-resourced school districts." A recent GAO report found that charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate, with suspensions falling disproportionately on students of color and students with disabilities.
Charter schools must be publicly accountable, serve the needs of all students in their community, not just a select few, and must adhere to open meetings and public record laws, and the same civil rights, employment, labor, health and safety laws and teacher certification requirements as other public schools. Charter schools should operate according to the same rules as public schools. I support the National Education Association's principles on charter schools.
Only by maintaining strong public schools in Indiana can we continue to meet the needs of every child. We must put our public funds in the public schools that are required to serve all children and make those schools the very best that they can be.
Supporting Career and Technical Education
We need to strengthen our career and technical education (CTE) programs so that students leave high school ready for college and careers. Investments in CTE (what used to be called vocational education) can help students prepare for careers in our rapidly changing economy. Over 11 million American students enroll in CTE each year. These programs provide opportunities for students to learn a wide range of skills—from advanced manufacturing to carpentry to child care.
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century. This legislation would sharpen the focus on skills that students need to get access to good-paying jobs, create strong performance and accountability measures, involve parents and other stakeholders in measuring the effectiveness of these programs, and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds. These are important steps forward for CTE, which was last reauthorized a decade ago, when our economy looked very different.
I would support partnerships between local apprenticeship programs and public schools in order to create a pipeline of students who have the opportunity to start working toward becoming an apprentice while still in high school. I support federal investment in apprenticeship and workforce training models that bring together local education partners, employers, unions, and the local workforce investment system.
Matching Up Community College with the Needs of Local Employers
We need to support the alignment of community college coursework with the needs of our local employers. The federal workforce training law, the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, is supposed to achieve this. But that’s easier said than done. I would work to ensure that this law is being implemented in ways that allow students to train for today’s in-demand jobs and the jobs of the future. The economy we have today is not the economy we will have tomorrow. As the role of automation increases, we must invest in ensuring that students have the digital skills they need to compete. We also need to create lifelong learning opportunities for people to gain new skills in emerging industries. Community colleges can play a key role in efforts to help working people train for the jobs of the future. We can support parents in pursuing community college degrees by helping them with child care and making work schedules predictable.
Making College Affordable
Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, but today the skyrocketing costs of college put it out of reach for far too many. The average debt for graduating students today is over $37,000 and our national student loan debt is $1 trillion dollars. This is unacceptable.
All too often, for-profit colleges charge hefty tuitions but fail to deliver training that leads to good-paying jobs. Too many students use their public financial aid, but leave with high debt and a lack of credentials to support their families. These institutions must be held accountable for the outcomes of their students.
I support debt-free college, which would be achieved through the College for All Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jayapal and Senator Sanders. This legislation allows students whose families have a total income of less than $125,000 to attend college debt-free at a four-year public university or a two-year community college. It would also allow people to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy and refinance student loans at the lowest available interest rate. It is paid for through a small tax on Wall Street stock trades. We can also help bring down college costs and student debt by supporting subsidized loans, caps on the interest rates students pay on federal loans, federal work-study programs, expansion of summer and year-round Pell grants, and loan forgiveness for people who engage in public service professions like teaching. We should also explore a national community service program that would allow students to earn credits toward tuition.