Every individual in this country has the right to rise. Yet today, the American Dream — the idea that anything is possible through hard work — is threatened by an education system failing to prepare the next generation of children for success.
Too many low-income students start kindergarten already years behind their more affluent counterparts. Only one-third of students graduate high school prepared for college or a good career. And our higher education system has become too expensive for many Americans to afford.
To achieve equal opportunity and increased economic growth, we must provide every child the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the increasingly competitive 21st century global economy.
As the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy today, I firmly believe that ensuring every individual has access to a quality education is the great civil rights challenge of our time.
Achieving these goals doesn’t require additional money or programs designed by Washington. That’s why my plan is budget neutral and returns power to states, local school districts and parents. My plan requires a complete overhaul of a system from one that serves bureaucracies to one that serves the needs of families and students and is based on four conservative principles: 1) education decisions should be made as close to the student as possible; 2) choice of all kinds should be expanded; 3) transparency is essential to accountability; and 4) innovation requires flexibility.
Understanding that many families invest in their children’s education well before college, my plan allows for the conversion of 529 college savings accounts into Education Savings Accounts. These accounts would allow families and individuals to save tax-free for lifelong education, including for pre-K, elementary school, high school, college, job training, tutoring, summer school or online classes. We’ll make charitable donations to the ESA’s of low-income children tax-deductible.
To give low-income children a stronger start in life, we will consolidate the roughly $22 billion annual federal dollars spent through 44 disjointed programs, and allow states to deposit $2,500 annual scholarships in the ESA of every low-income child under five so their parents can choose the type of education services and care their children need to flourish.
To leverage the limited role of the federal government to improve all schools, we will take four main steps. First, we will dramatically expand choice by doubling support for charter schools; strengthening the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program; and making federal aid to low-income (Title I) and special needs students (IDEA) portable, so states can give scholarships directly to those students to attend the school of their choice.
Second, we will require states to ensure every citizen receives a complete picture of student achievement, system progress and finances in their schools. Parents, teachers and taxpayers need information to evaluate their schools because transparency yields better results.
Third, we will empower states with the flexibility to improve their schools, while ensuring the federal government does not interfere in academic standards, curriculum or content. Right now, too many regulations drown the system in compliance costs, wasting valuable resources. We need to give states the flexibility to reform and innovate to meet the unique needs of their students.
Fourth, we will focus on teachers. We will give schools whose teachers achieve good results for low-income students more money, incentivizing and rewarding success. And, we will foster excellent teaching by helping states reward the best educators, recruit new talent and improve professional development.
To drive down college costs and ensure every student is getting value for the dollars invested in his or her education, we will also restructure our higher education system in four main ways.
First, we will create state databases so every student can see the average unemployment rate, earnings, graduation rates and debt repayment rate of programs they are considering. We need students to be able to judge the cost and quality of programs so they can make better choices and hold schools accountable.
Second, we will give colleges and career training programs “skin in the game,” putting them on the hook for a portion of the federal funds their alumni are unable to repay.
This will incentivize them to reduce costs and ensure that students graduate with the skills needed to succeed.
Third, we will expand access to innovative new providers based on their rates of student success. Innovation has the potential to transform higher education and dramatically increase access and drive down costs while giving students a wider variety of options that fit their needs and budgets.
Finally, instead of the current burdensome federal loan system, we will give all high school graduates access to a $50,000 line of credit through their Educative Savings Account (ESA) to pay for college and career training. For every $10,000 spent, students would repay 1 percent of their income for 25 years. This ensures affordable repayment, removes risk of default and protects students during periods of unemployment, while the ESA structure gives students flexibility and the incentive to be cost-conscious. In addition, low-income students would have access to an improved need-based Pell Grant through their ESA.
To help borrowers with existing debt, we will allow them to transfer into the new income-based repayment system. And, for those who chose not to, we will make federal debt collection more transparent, simple and fair; allow private student debt to be discharged in bankruptcy; extend the debt repayment period; and ease transition into the existing REPAYE program.
I know what needs to be done. As governor of Florida, I increased student achievement across the board, particularly for those most at risk, and as president, I will do the same.
Making America’s education system world class is not only an economic imperative, it is moral one as well.