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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Clinton has a lot to learn from Sanders on education

Perhaps the most significant move leftward for Hillary Clinton since her 2008 campaign has been her endorsement of making high-quality preschool available to all Americans.

This is a part of her broader “Zero to Five” plan that also includes home visits by nurses for all “at-risk mothers” during pregnancy and the first 18 months of their child’s life; this “has been shown to be effective in improving children’s and mothers’ outcomes,” according to the New America Foundation.

Her plan would also triple enrollment in Early Head Start (for low-income children up to age three), increase enrollment in Head Start (publicly-funded preschool) by 20 percent and increase funding of the Child Care Block Grant.

This is an important development coming from the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. If one had to choose between sensible early childhood education policy and sensible policy for the other 17-or-so years that many Americans will spend in school, quality early childhood education would be the victor.

According to a study in the journal Child Development, early childhood development aids in positive social and “cognitive-academic achievement” decades later in life. This would be more beneficial than focusing on our woefully inadequate system of support for children and their parents during the first five years of life. Especially coupled with Clinton’s support of universal paid family leave, this is, indeed, very strong policy.

However, it is not necessary to choose between sensible early education policy and sensible policy for the rest of Americans’ education. There is one candidate who has voiced his support for making free education through graduate school a right of citizenship: Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont.

“Individuals in power should recognize that offering qualified students an education will help boost the United States’ economic competitiveness on the global stage,” writes the Huffington Post, paraphrasing Sanders.

Sanders points to Denmark as a model, where college at every level, including medical school, law school and Ph.D. programs — even for foreigners studying abroad at Danish schools — is free.

He sees this as an issue of priorities, of political will and of economic patriotism and social justice.

“The folks who control politics in America, the people who control the media aren’t particularly interested in that discussion,” said Sanders to the Huffington Post, commenting on why the issue is not discussed enough publicly. “They’re doing just fine. Ninety-nine percent of all new income being generated is going to the top one percent. The top one tenth of one percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. ‘What’s your problem? Things are going just great.’”

He is absolutely right that it is an issue of priorities. According to Slate Magazine’s Jordan Weissmann, we spend more on loans and grants — which disproportionately go to for-profit schools — than the total cost of public college tuition every year.

This is not the kind of policy that one will ever hear Clinton back. The New Republic notes that, while arguably a bit to the left of President Barack Obama’s asinine education reform policies, Clinton has “been a steady backer of charter schools.”

Sanders, on the other hand, is one of the strongest supporters out there of the teachers’ unions and of public education more generally. He strongly opposes any effort to turn our public education system into a system of coupons for charter schools that perform no better on average than public schools and exist mainly for ideological reasons.

This is a debate that needs to happen within the Democratic Party during the primaries, and Sanders is certainly the man to challenge Clinton from the left on education. As college students, perhaps more than anyone else, we have a vested interest in seeing Sanders ask these tough questions of Clinton and hopefully move her to the left on the vital issue of college tuition.

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Martin Forstrom is a senior studying sociology and Latin American studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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