The Vermont House and Senate education committees heard an overview of federal education policy from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon.
During his 45-minute appearance, Senator Sanders focused on the impact of poverty on school children and college affordability. While Vermont received $37 million in federal funds in December to bolster pre-kindergarten programs, Sanders wants more after-school and summer programs and more opportunities for pre-kindergarten. “We have got to end this absurdity that suggests that education, or public education, begins at age four or age five. We have got to make sure that every kid in this country regardless of income has high quality early childhood education. It is an expensive proposition but we are long way from doing that.”
National Education Association Vermont Spokesman Darren Allen notes that Sanders was repeating what he has said for a long time: that early education is critical. “He talked about the importance of getting young kids started in the education process rather than sitting around, and I think the word he used was sitting around on couches watching dumb television. We agree with him. We also agree that it is expensive. We also agree that it’s something that the United States should step up and do. He is stressing the importance of getting kids ready to learn as early as possible. That’s something that Vermont NEA has long supported.”
Sanders, an Independent, also brought up the rapidly increasing cost of college, noting that tuition at private colleges has increased by 25 percent and tuition at public institutions is up more than 50 percent over the past decade. “The frustration is that the cost of college is soaring. Kids are leaving college in some cases unable to find work which is commensurate with their education. That’s the frustration. And so what the President and others are saying you’re charging a lot of money, you’re getting a lot of Pell grants and Stafford loans, you must be more accountable. We are going to judge you on certain criteria such as the ability of the people who leave your school to go out and get jobs.”
Vermont Student Assistance Corporation President and CEO Scott Giles says it’s crucial that leaders in Washington and at the state level recognize that an investment in education is not just for individuals, but is also an economic driver. “Education is one of the biggest purchases a family will make. It’s really important that you take the time to look at all of your options, and choose the option that is most affordable. We really need to increase the federal investment in financial aid to support students of all ages. We also need to do the same thing at the state level. We’re thrilled that Senator Sanders, and in fact the entire Vermont delegation, is focused on this issue, because we think it’s one of the most important issues that families in New York and Vermont face.”
Audio of Senator Sanders’ comments at the Vermont Statehouse is courtesy of Vtdigger.org