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My Proposed Education Platform for Bernie Sanders

May 15, 2015

I live in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary in the nation. The presidential election is one years from November, but because we hold the “first-in-the-nation” status NH is being visited by potential presidential candidates from both parties who are making an effort to differentiate themselves from each other and from the candidates running on the opposite party. After working in public education in six different states for over 35 years, serving as a consultant in several VT and NH districts for the past two years, and writing this blog for over three years, I have some thoughts on what an ideal education platform might look like. I also have some ideas on where the funds might come from to pay for the ideas incorporated in these “planks”, which I will include at the conclusion of each of the three posts. 

In September or 2014 I posted my ideal education platform over a three day period, written as if it were being presented by ANY candidate…. but the document I posted was actually drafted using the document below that I sent to Bernie Sanders chief of staff. I had an opportunity to have an “elevator talk” with Bernie on the issue of privatization following a gathering in my home town and I am 100% confident he is opposed to the privatization of public education and he understands that privatization is the ultimate goal of hedge fund investors.

I welcome any feedback or editorial comments you might want to offer. In a blog post Jeff Bryant wrote in September of 2014 he asserted that “Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools”. If that is true in November 2014, I have reason to believe it will be even more so in 2016. Here is the education platform I sent to Bernie Sanders, the only declared candidate to date who is likely to consider it:

Overarching messages

  • Return governance of public schools to state and local school boards: No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have stripped state and local boards of their ability to define their curriculum and establish accountability measures. They mandated a de facto national curriculum and de facto national standardized tests. These national tests are designed so that most local schools will be defined as “failing”, paving the way for them to be taken over by for-profit charter chains. If elected I will appoint a Secretary of Education who will immediately suspend Race to the Top and all standardized tests mandated by the federal government. This will help restore governance to State and local school boards and diminish the impact of standardized tests on public schools.
  • Restore dignity to the teaching profession: By increasing the number of for-profit charter schools and supporting de-regulation, the US Department of Education has effectively expanded the number of untrained and non-certified teachers in our classrooms. If elected I will insist that States and local boards employ only highly qualified teachers by penalizing states that fail to do enforce regulations requiring certified teachers in every classroom so and offering scholarships to teachers who seek certification in areas where highly qualified teachers are scarce.
  • Eliminate all public funding to for profit and religiously affiliated K-12 schools: Public education was never intended to be profit driven. Nor was public education intended to incorporate religious training. Boards of education who oversee public schools funded by taxpayers are answerable to the public and, like all public institutions, cannot make a profit or advocate for religion. That is how it should be. For-profit schools do not answer to the public: they answer to shareholders. Religiously affiliated schools do not answer to the public: they answer to an unelected governing board who share a common religious perspective. We should not allow taxpayers dollars to line the pockets of shareholders or teach our children that one religion is superior to another. If elected I will stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to shareholders and to religious instruction of any kind.
  • Give EVERY child a chance to succeed in public schools: Our current education system punishes students born in the wrong zip code. Some of my opponents want to offer vouchers to students so they can choose better schools than those found in their neighborhood. But those same opponents want to make sure those vouchers cannot be used to attend a school in a nearby town or neighborhood where wealthy children live. We cannot sustain the American Dream of economic advancement for each succeeding generation unless we make sure the most financially challenged school districts in our nation have the same services, courses, and facilities as the most financially blessed school districts in our nation. If elected, I will advocate that we allocate federal funds in such a way that we can restore the American Dream.
  • Reinforce the notion that public education is a right and not a consumer item. My opponents want to provide parents with vouchers and a wealth of “data” so they can “choose” a public school they way they choose laundry detergent. Our President and my opponents want to provide college bound students with “data” on public and private college costs so they can choose a college the same way. Here’s what’s wrong with that idea: public education is NOT a consumer item. It is a right that every citizen should have. Over the past three decades have redirected public funds away from education and toward businesses. If elected I will recommend legislation that creates incentives for state legislatures to restore public education funding and post-secondary funding to 1980 levels.

Public Education through Grade 12

  • Provide up to 50% of the funds needed to offer full day voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to children raised in poverty. Researchers, teachers, school board members, and politicians all know that the first five years of life are crucial. We’ve known this for decades but we have done nothing to help financially struggling parents provide support for their children and we have provided only minimal federal support for the health, education, and welfare of children born in the wrong zip code. If elected I will recommend to Congress that the federal government match the funds raised by any state that offers voluntary full-day pre-kindergarten programs to children born in poverty.
  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.
  • Fully fund Special Education: My Vermont colleague, the late Jim Jeffords championed full funding for the federal government’s share of the special education services they mandated and withdrew from his party when President Bush did not keep his promise to include full funding for special education in the No Child Left Behind legislation. Every school board member, school administrator, teacher, parents, and taxpayer wants to see this promise kept. If elected I will submit a budget that calls for full funding of the federal government’s share of special education and make certain that any legislation that increases federal special education funding will have a hold-harmless provision to make certain the additional federal funds provided to school districts are used to improve instruction.
  • Revise the Common Core: Recent actions by state legislatures (g. Texas) and local school boards (e.g. Jefferson County, CO) underscore the need for a common set of standards for education. The Common Core, underwritten by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, was developed in response to this legitimate need. Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
  • Discontinue the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for rating schools. By now parents, teachers and voters are fully aware of the misuse of standardized testing in our public schools. They realize how demoralizing this testing is for teachers, school communities, and—most dishearteningly— for students. The use of standardized achievement tests to rate schools is narrowing the curriculum by pushing out subjects that cannot be tested inexpensively. This emphasis on testing dehumanizes the school by making the preparation for tests the focal point of classroom instruction. Worst of all, the testing provides the public with misleading, meaningless, and seemingly precise data that fails to measure the true value of schooling. The test results do accomplish one thing: they help persuade the public that our public schools are failing. If elected I will suspend the testing mandated by Race To The Top and issue a waiver exempting school districts from all tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. In place of these tests, I will direct the Secretary of Education to work with practitioners, post secondary institution leaders, and business leaders to devise an accountability framework that each state will use to develop their own unique means of measuring school effectiveness. One size does not fit all in the classroom, and we’ve learned the hard way that one size does not fit all in public schools.
  • Provide high speed internet to every school and every home in America. Internet access should be viewed as a public utility and should be provided to every home and school in America. Technology holds great promise in education, but it will only be a viable tool for learning when everyone has equal access to content on the web. Furthermore, any provision or regulation that allows internet and content providers to “tier” the speed of delivery will make the digital divide and the social and economic divisions even worse than they are today. We have thousands of people who need work and thousands of homes and schools that need high-speed internet access. The solution is clear: if elected I will create jobs to provide high-speed internet service to all citizens.

Post-Secondary Education

  • Reduce the interest rates on student loans to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks: The USDOE, loan servicers, and “too big too fail” banks are charging post-secondary students and graduates exorbitant interest rates and when the students are unable to pay the loans their credit ratings are ruined for years. Linking the student loan interest rates to the interest rates the Federal Reserve charges to banks will relieve students of their debt burden, make college more affordable, and help the economy grow. If elected I will limit the interest rate on student debts to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks.
  • Deny loans and grants to failing for-profit institutions: The Department of Education has aggressively supported the closure of “failing PUBLIC schools” but has done nothing to penalize propriety schools who failed to graduate a majority of students, who willfully mislead applicants and misrepresent their graduation and job placement rates, and who made arrangements with lending institutions to offer undergraduates student loans from multiple servicers. This practice has damaged the credit ratings of tens of thousands of former students and cost taxpayers billions to bail out the banks whose loans were guaranteed. If elected I will deny federal loans and grants to for-profit post-secondary institutions who made bad loans and forfeit the loans students took out to attend those schools.
  • Provide grants to States to reduce the cost of public post-secondary education institutions. Public colleges are now collecting only 3% more revenue per student as they collected 25 years ago. Yet tuition costs are skyrocketing. Why? Because the federal government has shifted the costs for many federal programs to the states

and drastically reduced federal funds. Because of this state tax burdens have increased and legislatures have responded by shifting the costs to post-secondary students by raising the tuitions of state-funded schools. This has the effect of leaving economically disadvantaged and minority students in the lurch, contributing to the inequality in our country and eroding our sense of community. EVERY child is entitled to have access to a high quality education and EVERY citizen should share in that cost. To make the cost of post-secondary education affordable I will establish revenue sharing grants with states to help lower the cost of public post-secondary education.

How Can This Be Funded?

People ask me how we can possibly pay for these initiatives. Here’s the truth of the matter: The funds we need for education are being spent elsewhere. We must use dollars now going for wars and tax breaks for businesses to fund education for the next generation of Americans. We are paying billions of dollars a year for wars and we haven’t raised a dime to cover their costs. We are currently offering millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and then allowing them to locate offices overseas to avoid paying income taxes. If we can raise billions for wars without raising taxes and allowing businesses to increase their profits, we should be able to raise billions for school districts to provide modern facilities, modern technology, high-speed internet connections, and MOST OF ALL, well qualified and highly dedicated teachers.  









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