Strengthening Our Schools and Making College Affordable
"There is nothing more important to our future than our country's schools. We all pay a price when young people who could someday find the cure for AIDS or make a fuel cell work are sitting on a stoop because they didn't get the education they needed." - John Edwards
More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have two school systems that are separate and unequal. Children enrolled in high-poverty schools often do not receive the same opportunities as their peers in more affluent schools. There are nearly 1,000 high schools where more than half of the students won't graduate. Low-income 12th-graders are three years behind their peers, reading at the same level as middle-class ninth-graders.
Strengthening Public Schools:
* Invest in Teachers: Studies bear out what parents already know: nothing is more important to children's success than their teachers. Our country needs to invest more in recruiting, training and paying teachers and in treating them like the professionals they are. Edwards will attract good teachers in rural, urban and other schools where we need them most with college scholarships and higher pay. Because the hardest time in a teacher's career is the first couple of years, he will pair new teachers with successful veteran teachers serving as master teachers.
* Strengthen High School Curricula: Our education system shortchanges the skills our children need for the future such as math and science, creativity and critical thinking. American ninth-graders are now 18th in the world in science education. Edwards supports strengthening high schools with a more challenging curriculum.
* Expand Access to Preschool Programs: High-quality education for young children can have a large impact on their later success in school, and in life. Young people who were enrolled in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, own homes, and earn more as adults. With its Smart Start program, North Carolina has been a national leader in early education. Edwards will expand Head Start and other programs that offer access to early child education. [High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 2005]
* Create Second-Chance Schools for High School Dropouts: As many as one-third of all students drop out of school, and dropout rates are even worse for low-income students and students of color. Large majorities of recent dropouts regret their decision. Edwards will create second-chance schools to help former dropouts get back on track, offering them one-on-one attention and a chance to earn a diploma at night or at a local community college. [Civic Enterprises, 2006; Manhattan Institute, 2006]
Expanding College Opportunity
As a young man, John Edwards watched as his father got passed over for better jobs because he lacked a college education. College graduates can expect to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates, and their children are almost twice as likely to attend college themselves. However, an estimated 200,000 college-qualified graduates fail to attend college each year. Students from high-income families are five times more likely to enroll in college than their low-income peers. College-age black and Hispanic Americans are only about half as likely to be enrolled. Students who do go to college now leave with more than $19,000 in debt, twice as much as a decade ago. [College Summit, 2007; Dynarski, 1999; NACAC, 2005; Project on Student Debt, 2007]
* Create College for Everyone: Two years ago, Edwards helped start a College for Everyone program in Greene County, North Carolina, helping increase the college-going rate from 54 percent to 74 percent. As president, Edwards will create a similar national plan to pay one year of public-college tuition, fees and books for more than 2 million students. In return, students will be required to work part-time in college, take a college-prep curriculum in high school and stay out of trouble.
* Overhaul the Student Loan Program: Student loans exist to help college students, not student loan lenders, but they aren't working that way. Lenders are racking up huge profits while students are buried under increasingly large debts. The banks that make student loans receive large federal subsidies and a guarantee against default, even though the U.S. Department of Education offers the same loans that are far less expensive for taxpayers. Edwards will let all students borrow directly from Education. By eliminating bank subsidies on student loans, he will free up almost $6 billion a year to make college more affordable. [CAP, 2006]
* Simplify Financial Aid: The FAFSA application for student aid is needlessly complicated and longer than many tax forms. Many students and families need classes to help fill it out, and 1.5 million high school students do not apply for aid even though they are eligible. Edwards would dramatically simplify the application process by using information the federal government already has, eliminating two-thirds of the questions. [TICAS, 2007]
* Give Students the Tools They Need to Apply for College and Student Aid: Financial aid alone is not enough. Too many students lack the encouragement and guidance they need to apply to college. In some large cities, a single counselor must serve more than 700 students. Edwards will help every low-income high school eligible for Title I hire a new college counselor, helping students choose college-track courses and navigate the admissions and financial aid process. [McDonough, 2007; Bridge Project, 2003]