Sen. Bernie Sanders provided an overview on federal education policy in testimony today at the Statehouse before the Vermont House and Senate education committees.
Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, focused on ways to expand pre-kindergarten and make college more affordable.
“There is perhaps no issue more important than how we educate our youth,” Sanders said. “I am very concerned that, on many levels, we are failing our youth. We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at 4 or 5 years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.”
In December, Vermont received $37 million in federal funds to bolster pre-kindergarten programs. “This is a good start,” Sanders said. “But we must do more to ensure that quality programs are created for families to help educate their children.”
Creating more opportunities for pre-kindergarten is only part of the solution, the senator said, calling for an expansion in after-school and summer programs.
Sanders also addressed skyrocketing tuition at colleges and universities throughout the country. Tuition at private colleges has increased by 25 percent over the past decade, while tuition at public institutions has increased by more than 50 percent. The rapid rise in tuition costs has translated into massive amounts of student debt.
“Today, the average student graduating from a 4-year college is $27,000 in debt,” Sanders said. “The problem is even more acute in Vermont, which has the sixth highest student debt in the country: nearly 70 percent of Vermont's college graduates carry student debt, averaging almost $29,000.”
The United States once led the world in college graduates. Now, the U.S. ranks 15th in the world in terms of percentage of college graduates behind Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“In fact, the percentage of Americans who have a college degree today is no higher than it was 30 years ago,” Sanders said. “How do we compete in a global economy if we have descended from first to fifteenth in the world in terms of people with college degrees?”