Education is a civil right and a human right. As a mom of two kids, including one in a Haverhill public school, I personally understand the critical role of high-quality teachers on the front lines making those rights a reality, and I understand that leadership at the local and state level is paramount.
The federal government must serve as a guarantor of the human and civil right of every American child to a free and appropriate education tailored to their needs and their potential. That right remains out of reach for too many children, especially those from working-class families and communities of color, children with disabilities--including some in my own family-- as well as LGBT children, particularly transgender children under attack from this Administration. The federal government should use standards (for general education, students with disabilities, English language learners, and gifted and talented students), dissemination of research and best practices, and targeted resources--such as Title I, IDEA, and NEA and ESSA-associated arts and civic education funds—as leverage to foster excellence and equity for all children in the United States.
Education throughout our lifetimes is also critical to unlocking individual potential and expanding our economy. And yet, we have disinvested in public higher education for decades, and burdened Millennials and Generation X with a higher education system that all but demands debt that our parents’ generations never faced, while closing off the option to many people. And people wonder why the American Dream is fading for so many. This doesn’t just affect student loan borrowers, it is holding back consumer-led growth in our entire economy. Congress has put the profits (and donations) of student loan lenders above students and graduates, blocking common-sense reform and the debt relief they so readily gave Wall Street. Working and middle-class people of our generations, who have student loan debt-- like my wife and me and many of you-- are not at the table, therefore we have not been on the agenda. Let’s change that, now.
My initial proposals:
At least one year of universal pre-kindergarten in Massachusetts and America: I support a partnership between federal and state governments to make at least one year of high quality pre-K accessible to all working and middle-class families. This is a critical investment in our next generation and our economy, which easily pays for itself in the long term with better student outcomes as well as immediate benefits to working and middle-class incomes and quality of life.
Resist and rollback attempts to privatize our public schools: Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and the GOP Congress want to plunder the public money supporting our public schools and vulnerable kids in order to funnel more money to charter schools run by for-profit corporations, as well as vouchers to support private and religious schools. I support properly regulated public charter schools as an important tool to test innovative practices for the benefit of the entire public school system, but they should not replace our public school systems or drain funding from the public school system. As a product of public schools, with a child in our neighborhood public school in Haverhill, and the former PTA Vice President of a Title I neighborhood public school, I will be a leader on this issue. Within Massachusetts, I support a moratorium on new charter schools until we can fix our funding formulas to ensure neighborhood schools are fully funded, as well as to ensure that any new charter schools will strictly meet the original intent of charter schools to be laboratories of innovation and not a tool of a privatization agenda.
Expand Title I funding: Title I funds are the federal government’s most effective tool in guaranteeing the human and civil right of education to vulnerable kids. I was a parent and a PTA Vice President at a Title I elementary school, and understand the power of these resources to transform schools and communities. Increasing Title I funds and expanding the flexibility for how they are used will improve both instructional time and critical supporting services— expanded free school meals throughout the calendar year, expanded before and aftercare programs and supportive services for parents to keep students in an enriching, safe environment in and out of school.
Upgrade and retrofit schools with federal infrastructure funds and an expanded national service corps: Many schools in the 3rd District have decades of deferred maintenance or improvement needs, from new roofs to structural repairs to HVAC to expanding instruction spaces. I will advocate for 3rd District communities in competing for federal infrastructure grants for these improvements, as well as the use of national service corps members labor and expertise to get this done.
Finally fulfill the federal government’s promise to children with disabilities, and fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): For decades, the federal government has shirked its legal responsibility to provide a full 40% of the cost of providing children living with disabilities a high quality free public education in the least restrictive environment possible and appropriate. I will support fully funding this mandate that has been left to state and local governments for too long.
Clarify and reinforce civil rights protections for all students, especially transgender and gender-expansive students recently under attack by the Trump Administration: I will call on the Trump Administration (DOJ and ED) to restore the guidance to schools on Title IX. I will vote to increase funding for the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and rigorously oversee their activities so they will have the personnel, tools, and will they need to investigate civil rights violations in our schools and to enforce our nation’s civil rights laws.
Guarantee appropriate education for the academically gifted under the law, to ensure kids from all backgrounds are challenged to their full potential: Currently, too many academically gifted students in the 3rd District and the country are not getting an education appropriate to their needs or abilities. This is both leaving their human right to an appropriate education unmet and detrimental to our own potential as a nation. Frequently, we don't even comprehend the number of academically gifted students that we have-- particularly in our school districts with fewer resources, such as rural and urban communities. I will support or introduce legislation incentivizing state governments to provide universal screening to identify academically gifted students during early childhood education. I will also propose an amendment to the IDEA clarifying that the guarantee of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) extends to appropriately challenging every gifted student in America, with all the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and funding support encompassed by the IDEA. This will have the aggregate effect of providing more advanced educational opportunities to more students, diversifying our programs for the academically gifted, and removing barriers of access for students who have both a learning or physical disability as well as superior academic potential.
Improve arts education: A comprehensive and complete education must include arts and civic education as part of the instructional day on an equal footing with academics, as recognized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) definition of a "Well Rounded Education". From music to visual arts and theatre, the arts foster creativity, achievement in other subjects, and can support superior mental health and emotional outcomes. As Congresswoman, I will put real resources and real flexibilities in the classrooms behind these words. I support the full funding of the School Support and Academic Achievement Acts under Title IV, and guidance that will clarify that arts education can be used to make progress toward Title I goals.
High standards, empower teachers: We should articulate national educational standards free from partisanship, and encourage schools to make progress toward them through incentives. These incentives must recognize a diverse array of means and methods of showing progress. We must move away from the punitive use of testing metrics that incentivizes schools to teach to an increasingly narrow curriculum rather than unlocking the creativity and potential of our teachers and our students. In many cases, poor testing metrics measure problems of racial and economic justice and income inequality outside of the classroom that must be met with policy solutions rather than problems of teacher quality. We must do the hard work of meeting those problems head-on, with supportive housing, transportation, and nutritional assistance to ensure all students are ready to learn. Teachers and schools cannot be punished for our society's failure to properly fund these programs, which leaves our most vulnerable students unprepared to learn when they enter the classroom.
Honor our promises to our teachers and work to retain teachers in their vocation: I will fight back against attacks on the hard-earned pensions and other benefits won by teachers in Massachusetts and around the country through collective bargaining by their labor unions. As a former public employee for 13 years as an intelligence analyst, I endured years of pay freezes and understand the damage to the effectiveness of government-- from the Intelligence Community to the classroom-- that is done when public employees do not have the benefit of collective bargaining through unions. Morale, retention, and the public interest suffers. Accordingly, I will work to preserve the rights of teachers and other public employees to effectively engage in collective bargaining. I will support or co-sponsor legislation to protect "fair share" dues under attack in the Janus case before the Supreme Court as of this writing, and I will support the re-introduction and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Create alternative paths to working and middle-class prosperity with federal support to apprenticeships: This old idea that combines education, mentorship and an income can be refreshed for the Automation Age and supported with tax credits.
Support tuition-free community college for all and debt free public universities: The ability of Americans to work their way through public colleges and universities with little or no debt helped create the once-booming American middle class. This has not been a reality in most states-- including Massachusetts-- for decades. It’s time for revolutionary investment in higher education to open up community colleges for tuition-free lifelong learning and make public colleges and universities debt-free for working and middle-class families earning up to $125,000, with a modest personal and family contribution and student work study. These goals will be achieved by robust federal funding and a highly incentivized match of state funds.
Relieve the student loan debt burden by expanding interest deductions, refinance options, and stabilizing the public service loan forgiveness program: I will vote to expand the existing student loan debt interest deduction from $2,500 to $5,000 a year, and incorporate a refundable tax credit provision to ensure individuals and families of the lowest income levels also benefit from it. I will vote to expand the ability for student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, to stabilize and expand public service loan forgiveness programs, and to expand the ability to refinance student loans through the Federal Direct Loan Service program
Reduce public student loan interest rates, because the government shouldn’t profit off of student loan debt: I will vote to change the formula that Congress uses to set student loan rates, currently set from 2.05 to 4.6% above the 10-year Treasury rates. I will support reducing these rates by 1 to 2.3%.