Supporting Students from Pre-K through College

Every child deserves a high quality education that meets their needs and prepares them  to be a productive member of society. The promise of strong public education is very foundation of the American dream.

While the majority of decisions regarding public education happen at the state or local level,  the federal government significantly impacts the results of these local efforts. Prudent action at the federal level helps state educational innovation to flourish and continue. Ultimately, the role of the federal government is one of empowerment and oversight. As your Congresswoman I will  support local actors in their efforts, providing resources and guidance to improve the quality of education.

Universal Pre-K

Empowering children to succeed begins in early childhood. Research has shown that much of what contributes to your success in life is established before you enter kindergarten. During early childhood, the brain undergoes rapid development. Children build not only cognitive skills, the building blocks for reading, writing, and problem-solving, but also a variety of social emotional skills like impulse control, and sociability, that vastly affect success.[1] Children from lower SES backgrounds enter kindergarten dramatically behind in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, as compared to their peers from higher SES homes.[2] How can we consider these students empowered and ready to succeed, if they are only 5 years old and already behind in school? Following the publication of several large scale studies like those of Nobel Laureate Dr. James Heckman, who stressed early childhood education as the single best investment in reducing inequality and strengthening the economy (See this Summary of Heckman’s findings for more.) there was a flutter of excitement across the country to establish public pre-schools to serve all students who wish to attend.

I am proud to say New Jersey was one of the 18 states to receive a federal grant in 2015 to enhance their high quality  preschool program, which was then operating in 35 school districts, to 17 additional communities. Further, there were strategic oversight efforts and a continuous improvement plan so that state preschool programming did not just serve more students, but also served those students better. The expansion included multiple sites in Burlington and Ocean Counties, and 95% of the funding went directly to the districts themselves, empowering those closest to the students to serve them the best they could.

This type of grant program is a strong model for federal education policy which I fully support.

Elementary and Secondary Education

It is important for us to recognize that empowering states and districts to do what’s best for their specific context does NOT in lead us to school vouchers.

School choice is about schools that take public money, hand it over to private schools that have little or no accountability to taxpayers, and then pick and choose their students. Students with disabilities, and vulnerable populations may end up suspended or expelled for reasons the schools then do not need to justify. Our students deserve more than this cold hearted, profit-driven approach to education. They deserve something that puts their needs front and center, providing the support and tools to help them flourish.

There is no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement. In fact, Recent research about private-school voucher programs has been grim: In Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Louisiana, and Ohio, students did worse on tests after they received the vouchers.

Not only do vouchers not reduce public education costs; they undermine accountability by shifting public funds into the hands of schools that operate with almost full autonomy. And very little is known about how charters spend federal and state tax dollars.

I agree with the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers — the two largest teachers unions in the U.S. — both strongly oppose vouchers. The AFT labeled them an attempt “to undermine or otherwise diminish the role of public education in our society.” The NEA, meanwhile, “opposes school vouchers because they divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real “choice” for the overwhelming majority of students.” The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, called DeVos a “disaster for public schools.”

If they really want to make a great choice for students, let’s invest in public education and create more schools that support all our students.

Post High School Education

Increasingly, being an empowered worker in the 21st Century economy means having a college degree. Our children should not have to mortgage their futures to obtain a college degree. While the HS graduation rate in our District  is over 90%, only 32% of those over 25 have earned a bachelor’s degree. In 2011, people who worked full-time and had a college degree earned an average of $21,100 more than those who had only a high school diploma. Being able to attend college significantly increases opportunities for upward mobility and a better life for our children, which is a key component of the American dream.

Though not the only issue, the number one barrier to college education in this country is a financial one. According to USSA statistics, student debt levels in this country are approaching $2 trillion. The average student loan debt neared $30,000 in 2014.

The median income in our district is $71,000 The average cost for a private colleges has increased to almost $40,000. If you have a one child in college college expenses  represents  ⅔ of your income. What happens when you have two?  In spite of the obvious financial strain 2 kids in college would place on a family making that median income they would not be eligible for most financial aid for low income families. Pell Grants, for example, are only available to those families making $40,000 or less.

An educated populace is necessary to keep America at the forefront of innovation, technological and scientific breakthroughs, and high-income careers. All of these factors play a large role in the health and prosperity of our  nation’s economy. The education levels of a state or country are very often correlated with its income levels and GDP. By investing in an educated workforce, the United States is marking itself as a competitor in today’s global economy.

[1] National Institute for Early Education Research, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, Dr. James Heckman (Nobel Lauriate): https://heckmanequation.org/resource/invest-in-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits-strengthen-the-economy/

[2]  Inequalities at the Starting Gate: Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills Gaps between 2010–2011 Kindergarten Classmates, by Emma García, Economic Policy Institute, June 17, 2015. (From National Center for Education Stattistics)