K-12 public education, one of the most fundamental cornerstones of a democratic society, is under direct attack. Privatization forces seek ill-gotten gains from public education. They set up charter schools that generate profits. They impose elaborate mandatory testing that provides significant revenue to testing companies. At the same time, state legislatures are starving public education of adequate funding, driving down the quality of schooling and creating a false perception that public schools provide subpar education.
Communities of color who have long been underserved by the public education system have become pawns in the privatization debate. An outcome of charters has been to further roll back the gains of the civil rights movement and more heavily segregate K-12 education by race and class.
Higher education is also under a privatization attack. Corporate-backed reformers are imposing profit-based models onto higher education. Professors are under tremendous pressure to bring funding into the university, rather than focusing on doing good academic work that will benefit the greater society. The labor protections that professors fought hard to achieve through the tenure system are under threat of being dismantled with the increased exploitation of adjunct and other non-tenure-track faculty whose labor produces value for colleges and universities far beyond what they receive in wages and benefits.
At the same time, state legislatures are starving public universities of funding, which is pushing the cost of higher education onto the backs of individual students and their families, while university costs have continued to rise due to top-heavy, corporate-style administration. 43.2 million Americans are crippled by student loan debt. Overall student debt is now over $1.73 trillion, with average student debt over $36,406. The cost of college has risen eight times faster than wages over the last 40 years. It’s no surprise that 7.8 percent of student loans are in delinquency or default, with a disproportionate number of those who default being low-income students or students of color who have been hoodwinked into attending private for-profit colleges and trade schools.
Those who pursue graduate education are doubly affected by the crisis in higher education. The average debt for graduate students is $78,118 while more and more academic workers with advanced degrees are being pushed into contingent adjunct positions where they make as little as one quarter what a tenure-track professor makes.
Workers who are paying off student loans are delaying the purchase of homes and cars, and putting off marriage and starting families, creating a further drag on the U.S. economy.
President Biden’s American Families Plan calls for providing universal, high quality free preschool for three-and four-year olds, as well as two years of free community college across the country. It also would invest in making college more affordable for low-and-middle-income students at colleges that serve historically non-white student communities through increasing the Pell Grant amount. In addition, the plan would put money towards strategies aimed at increasing retention and completion amongst post-secondary students. Finally, in efforts to improve education at all levels, the American Families plan prioritizes improving teacher training and support, and doubling scholarships for teachers while earning their degree. Republicans in Congress, however, have shown much less interest in spending for education than for traditional infrastructure efforts, and have expressed scorn towards the tax increases for wealthy Americans that Biden is proposing in order to fund the plan. Furthermore, many components of the bill would require states to contribute part of the necessary funding, an action that remains uncertain in many places.
Attempts to turn professional educators into automatons carrying out an unrealistic one-size-fits-all teach-to-the-test curriculum have resulted in a turnover rate of nearly 50% among new teachers in the first five years of teaching. The educational policy community has united behind the position that standardized testing does not measure educational quality. Data consistently shows that neighborhood schools outperform charter schools. But the profit-driven agenda of standardized testing and charters remains all too prevalent.
Public education is facing a crisis perpetuated by testing entities and charter schools that seek to profit off our children’s futures. Public schools should be adequately funded with full-time, unionized, and tenure-protected educators.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress:
- Pass laws implementing free public higher education and student loan forgiveness for all;
- In the meantime, put a moratorium on all student loan defaults, introduce default forgiveness, implement measures so that loans can be repaid at no more than 10 percent of annual income, reduce student loan interest rates to the same rate available for banking entities, and ensure interest cannot accrue until after graduation;
- Maintain funding for Title II intended for professional development, mentoring programs, and class size reduction;
- Demands the U.S. Department of Education:
- Bar the use of taxpayer-funded voucher programs that siphon public funds from public schools and funnel them to private and charter schools;
- Eliminate all high stakes testing;
- Work with borrowers to seek loan forgiveness if schools have deceived them or committed fraud;
- Demands state legislators:
- Fully fund public education;
- Preserve tenure systems;
- Disconnect educational funding from property taxation to address economic and racial segregation;
- Encourages regions and locals to actively lobby Congress and state legislatures on this program;
- Demands that the NLRB uphold the 2016 decision granting teaching and research assistants at private universities legal protection to form unions;
- Supports all campaigns that advocate universal access to free higher education.