Education Is a Lifelong Pursuit. Let’s Promise to Treat It Like One.

School did not come easy for me. I bounced between elementary schools struggling to read while my sister’s report cards went up on the fridge. Thanks to the perseverance of my mother, and the dedication of my teachers, we finally named the problem — dyslexia.

Ultimately, I received a customized educational experience, one of self-pace and self-discovery, and for that I’m blessed. It wasn’t an industrial model or standardization at scale. It was about what I needed to help me learn. It was about values, not rules, and it was unique. This is my thrust and my thinking: every student in California deserves the same opportunity to achieve success.

Aristotle was right. You can’t live a good life in an unjust society, and in our California society, about half of children live in or near poverty. If we are serious about closing achievement gaps and income gaps, we must get serious about closing the opportunity gap and that begins with education.

That’s why I’m calling for the California Promise, a new way of thinking about education as a lifelong pursuit. Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job.

I’m a firm believer in universal pre-school, which we accomplished in San Francisco. Every three and four-year old who wants it should have access to a high quality preschool or transitional kindergarten program, but I also believe that intervening at 3 years old is already too late.

We need to emphasize prenatal care and the first three years of a child’s life when nearly 85% of brain development occurs. We don’t need another study to tell us that early childhood education — beginning with prenatal developmental screenings — and affordable high quality childcare pays dividends for that child’s growth, and for our state’s economic growth.

We’ll couple our robust early childhood system with college savings accounts for every incoming kindergartener linking the next generation to the promise of higher education. We did it when I was Mayor, and we can do it all across the state.

We’ll create full-service K-12 community schools, engaging entire communities in our children’s future, open to everyone — all day, every day: wellness centers in schools to deal with not only physical health needs but adolescent mental health needs, arts education and computer science for every child, after school programs, and true public-public partnerships. And, unlike U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, we will attract teachers, not attack teachers.

Our state faces an acute teaching shortage, particularly in special education, bilingual education and STEM. A full 75% of California’s school districts reported experiencing a teacher shortage last year. We need to be student-centric in our thinking and provide teachers with the support they deserve to keep quality teachers in our classrooms.

Our schools will make this fundamental promise: each and every student, regardless of the zip code they live in, is capable and deserving of a higher education and technical training. It’s a promise that’s true to California’s tradition of advancing our educational system at critical junctures to give future generations better opportunities to succeed.

I’m passionate about community colleges — they’re the backbone of our economy and one of our most effective tools for upward mobility. That’s why the California Promise will guarantee two years of free community college tuition, create pathways to quality jobs and reduce debt for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. And it’s why the colleges will play a critical role in helping achieve my goal of 500,000 earn-and-learn apprenticeships by 2029, creating a new vocational education pipeline of high-skill workers.

The sad reality is that many students leave college with debt levels that would finance a home mortgage. Many don’t finish college at all because of the cost our education system puts in front of them. The California Promise will help more students to become college-ready and bolster efforts to support our students, because enrolling is only half the challenge: graduating is the key.

The community colleges, Cal State, and University of California segments operate in their own silos. I’m calling for a new higher education coordinating council to set bold statewide goals and hold institutions accountable to them. We need to expand access, improve affordability, bolster transfers and completion rates — and link financial incentives to clear student outcomes.

Technology is radically changing the world and the future of work. The state has been flat-footed in its response to uneven income growth and Sacramento has under-invested in higher education. We can and will change that.

Overarching all of this work — from prenatal to college and career — is my promise for California to reassert itself as an education data leader. The public deserves to know whether all students, regardless of background, have access to good schools and equitable funding. Let’s take a look at how African American boys and Latina girls are served by our schools, so that our educators can better tailor supports and we can remove barriers to opportunity. Let’s connect our early childhood, K-12 and higher education data systems so that we can learn from high schools whose graduates enter and complete college. And let’s gather the data on how well our colleges and universities are preparing students for the workforce.

The innovative partnerships that the California Promise creates between local school districts, community colleges, four-year universities, and the private sector, will enable California’s regions to rise together and restore the promise of our Golden State.

Husband & father. Former SF mayor & 49th Lt. Gov. of California. Dedicated to equal rights & the economic recovery of California. Author of Citizenville.

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