Education reform is near and dear to my heart as both my mother and my brother are teachers in Loudoun County. We need to invest in our children by funding our schools, value our teachers by paying them, free our graduates from insurmountable student debt by reforming our loan system, and safeguarding equitable access to education by making tuition at public universities affordable so that everyone has the ability to go to college regardless of their socioeconomic standing. Education creates opportunity and attacks economic inequality at its roots; starting here helps solve many other issues.
One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons sums it up perfectly: ‘Those in power will not simply give you the education you need to overthrow them.’ I managed to go to law school as a Gates Public Service Law Scholar, meaning that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid for every penny of my education, living expenses and travel—I did not go even one dollar into debt. This is what has enabled me to work to alleviate poverty worldwide with the United Nations (there a separate conversation to be had about the reform necessary in that organization to live up to its values, but I digress), fight for equality, and run for office. But we should not and cannot rely on billionaires to fix the inequalities in our education system.
I work as an Upward Bound STEM instructor and when I was doing a focus group with my students on how they think the education system can be fixed—because please, we need elected officials that also actually TALK with and ENGAGE students to find solutions to the problem—so many of them talked about needing to promote their school’s sports teams and extracurricular activities to attract funding. That is when it dawned on me that these young people have never experienced what it is like to attend fully funded government schooling. They did not see it as an option for them and that is heartbreaking.
For Virginia in particular, we have an excellent public school system of which I am a product. But when federal and state governments make as much money as they do off of student loans, and when schools can seemingly raise tuition with no ceilings, we are going to reach yet another aspect of our public life and human rights reach a bubble burst—think along the lines of housing, banking, etc. Over the last ten years, schools in Virginia have nearly doubled their tuition rates. Again, this is unsustainable and bad public policy. I will work to make tuition at public colleges and universities free so that everyone has the ability to go to college regardless of their socioeconomic standing. THAT is good public policy that will attack income and wealth inequality at its roots.