Millennials, whose children are now school age, are projected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest voting bloc next year. That means this key generation of voices holds a unique position to provide insight into the health of our public school system, suggest new ways to improve our schools and advocate for the future of black and brown children — too many of whom still lack access to a quality education.
A recent survey by The University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey Project, which focuses on the effects of race and ethnicity on perception and experience, found more than 70 percent of millennials believe that students with less economic resources get a worse education than those from wealthy backgrounds. Forty percent of the nearly 2,000 respondents believe that living in a low-income environment will always impact student educational outcomes, and majorities of millennials believe that public schools aren’t adequately preparing children for success in the future.
In the same study, millennials across racial lines also discussed the need for more support for our schools, with white millennials identifying increased school funding and teachers’ pay as being among the top ways to improve public education in their local school districts out of 14 choices that ranged from increasing school choice to more testing.
Although public education is primarily a state and local, rather than a federal, responsibility, the president and Congress have an important role in funding the public education of economically disadvantaged students, through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and students with disabilities, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
Currently, annual federal education funding for Title I and IDEA is significant — just under $16 billion and $12 billion, respectively. However, these appropriations have not kept up with the rising cost of educating our students, nor with the legitimate needs of states, including Maryland, for a more robust and realistic federal partnership.
Discord between the president’s administration and pro-education advocates in the Congress has prevented the federal government from adequately addressing this challenge. Those of us who want to expand federal funding have had to fight just to avoid significant cuts in federal education appropriations.
As a result, our nation’s schools are no longer the envy of the world, a reality that threatens our long-term national security.
There is a better approach, and our nation’s millennials are showing us the way.
Our national security, economic viability and morality as a society all require that the next Congress act on a bipartisan basis to significantly expand federal education funding, especially for the most vulnerable of our children.
We can’t afford to scale back or slow down our efforts to provide a high-quality education to all students — and we certainly don’t have the time to allow partisanship or the news cycle to distract us from this goal.
We need local and state legislators who will fight for more education funding; school leaders who will craft policies to support all students regardless of socioeconomic status or background; teachers who will dedicate themselves to attacking the achievement gap; and federal lawmakers who will give our children’s education more than rhetoric.
Republicans, Democrats and independents alike expect that when they send their children to community schools, they’ll get the very best from teachers, administrators and district leadership. We owe this to every student — and to ourselves.
Congressman Elijah Cummings (Twitter: @RepCummings) represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District In the United States House of Representatives.