A Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education

US Presidential contender, Senator Bernie Sanders, has released a far-reaching program to reform public education. Many of its policies resonate in the Australian context. The following is the Introduction to the plan together with an outline of its main policies.

His first principle is fundamental:

“Every human being has the fundamental right to a good education. On this 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, we are committed to creating an education system that works for all people, not just the wealthy and powerful.”

The United States, as the wealthiest country in history, should have the best education system in the world. Today, in a highly competitive global economy, if we are going to have the kind of standard of living that the people of this country deserve, we need to have the best educated workforce. But let me be very honest with you, and tell you that, sadly, that is not the case today. 

Our nation used to lead the world in the percentage of young Americans with college degrees. We were number one. Today, we are number 11, behind countries like South Korea, Japan, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia — and that is not acceptable. And here is the simple truth: 40 or 50 years ago, in California and Vermont, virtually any place in America, if you received a high school degree, the odds were pretty good that you would be able to get a decent paying job, raise a family, buy a house, buy a car, all on one income. 

That was the world 40 or 50 years ago. But that is not the world we live in today. The world has changed, the global economy has changed, technology has changed, and education has changed.

Over the past decade, states all over America have made savage cuts to education, while, at the same time, providing massive tax breaks to the wealthiest people and largest corporations in America. Our kids and our students are too important to cut back on education, especially when those cuts reduce educational opportunities for underserved students, students of color, low income students, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities. 

Among the 35 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. Reading scores for our students are not much better. The U.S. ranked 24th when compared to other highly industrialized countries such as Singapore, Canada and Germany. 

And, due to re-segregation of our K-12 schools, if you are a student of color, chances are your math, science and reading scores are even lower. Persistent disparities in achievement among underserved students means that we must do more to make sure that every student in the country gets a high-quality education regardless of how much income his or her family makes. If our public schools are struggling, then we cannot possibly expect our students to be prepared for success in postsecondary education. 

In the twenty-first century, a free public education system that goes from kindergarten through high school is no longer good enough. If we are to succeed as a nation, public colleges and universities must be tuition free. Higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. That means we have got to make public colleges and universities tuition free and we must substantially reduce student debt. Each and every year, hundreds of thousands of bright and qualified young people do not get a higher education for one reason and one reason alone: their family lacks the income. That is unfair to those families; and it is it is unfair to the future of this country. 

Instead of pursuing their dreams of being an environmentalist, a teacher, a social worker, or an artist, too many Americans end up taking higher-paying jobs on Wall Street or as accountants or as corporate managers simply to pay back their student loans. We need environmentalists. We need people to take care of the poor. We need health care providers to choose to work in community health centers. We need good teachers. Each and every American must be able to get the education they need to match their skills and fulfill their dreams.

In fulfilling those dreams, we must make teaching a highly attractive profession again. Teachers have one of the toughest and most demanding jobs in America. Teachers have been the leaders in the fight to improve public schools, reduce class sizes, and provide every student with books, computers and safe, high quality schools. What encourages me and gives me so much hope about the future is that teachers across the country are standing up and saying enough is enough! The wealthiest people in America cannot have it all, while public schools all over America are falling apart.

Over the past year, tens of thousands of teachers across the country have gone on strike to demand greater investment in public education. The wave of teacher strikes throughout the country provides an historic opportunity to make the investments we desperately need to make our public education system the best in the industrialized world, not one of the poorest.

Bernie’s education plan addresses the serious crisis in our education system by reducing racial and economic segregation in our public school system, attracting the best and the brightest educational professionals to teach in our classrooms, and reestablishing a positive learning environment for students in our K-12 schools. This plan calls for a transformative investment in our children, our teachers and our schools and a fundamental re-thinking of the unjust and inequitable funding of our public education system.

Key Policies

  • Combat Racial Discrimination and School Segregation
  • End the Unaccountable Profit Motive of Charter Schools
  • Provide Equitable Funding for Public Schools
  • Strengthen Special Education
  • Give Teachers a Much-Deserved Pay Rise and Empower Them to Teach
  • Expand After-School/Summer Education Programs
  • Provide Universal School Meals
  • Invest in Community Schools
  • Repair School Infrastructure
  • Make Schools a Safe and Inclusive Place for All

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