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Former Maryland governor: America must challenge education inequities or we will fall further behind | COMMENTARY

The inequity in access of broadband internet is putting students, especially low-income and students of color, at a significant disadvantage that will be hard to overcome in their lifetimes.
The inequity in access of broadband internet is putting students, especially low-income and students of color, at a significant disadvantage that will be hard to overcome in their lifetimes. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

With historic national and state elections over, it’s a natural time to rethink our basic policies. Do the twin crises of the pandemic and social justice create an opportunity to aspire to some of our most basic values: equity and a fair and just society? Fundamental needs in health, employment, housing and education will not be met unless we recognize the ongoing systemic inequities in our nation. These inequities are growing rapidly and are widening dangerous divisions. We cannot ignore them any longer. We must use this time to address issues of inequity that face us today if we are to ensure a shared prosperity in the future.

In the past, crises have propelled us to reaffirm our values and help America live up to its promises. The most notable was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The solutions to the Great Depression’s challenges were not proclamations about how many power plants we could build or how many new court houses could be constructed. Instead, there were aspirational visions like, “We will bring electricity to every home in America!” — this at a time when 90% of rural America’s homes lacked electricity. After the second World War, we invested in GI Bills for returning soldiers. As a result, our workforce and economy boomed, simultaneously growing the middle class. Likewise, as we again find ourselves in a time of peril, we must voice new aspirations for change in fundamental services like education. Today we need to say: “We will guarantee that children in America are set up for success through their experiences in the education system.”

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To ensure every child receives a quality and equitable education, we must overcome challenges in our health system, environment and economy. These issues are all deeply interconnected. We still have schools and communities where children are exposed to lead in their drinking water, causing neurological damage and setting them behind their peers who live in communities with safe drinking water. We have children who must travel to Wi-Fi hot spots provided on buses or in restaurants just to access remote learning opportunities and services, while others simply pull up to their kitchen table with their laptop to do school work. As of 2018, 14 million people lacked access to internet service, and 25 million lacked access to high speed broadband internet. It must be recognized that the inequity in access of broadband is putting students, especially low-income and students of color, at a significant disadvantage that will be hard to overcome in their lifetimes.

These growing inequities, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, must be addressed immediately, or the divisions in our society will continue to grow at alarming rates. We must use federal and state investments to address these crises in education. We must aspire to ensure basic needs like clean drinking water are met, and that access to adequate and affordable broadband is available to every home. With higher unemployment rates and the needed job re-skilling after this pandemic, free community college will be a necessity. These aspirations can become reality. We can create a stronger, more equitable society where everyone in our community prospers.

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Every child in America deserves an education system that is equitable and prepares them for success. We must use this pandemic as an opportunity to reset and refocus ourselves toward shared American values and a fairer, more just nation with shared prosperity. If we fail to challenge the inequities that are pervasive throughout our country today, students and families will continue to fall behind and so, too, will America. We can do better in America. We must do better

Parris Glendening was governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003; he can be reached at pglendening@smartgrowthamerica.org.

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