Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, from early childhood through college, regardless of race, zip code, or learning ability. Education is a personal issue for me – my mother was a teacher, my wife works in education, and as a parent of two school-age boys, I spend time helping with homework and attending parent-teacher conferences. And as someone who is still paying off college loans, I know the all-too-familiar feeling that families face when trying to figure out how to make college an affordable reality. That’s why I wanted to be a member of the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the Senate – so I could be at the center of debates about our nation’s commitment to education for all.
The past two years have tested our educators as well as students and their families in ways that require us to renew and redouble our efforts to ensure our schools are places where everyone can learn. That’s why I worked to help pass three COVID-19 relief bills that provided more than $280 billion to K-12 schools and higher education institutions, including $166 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act. As part of that effort, led the effort to make sure that part of this money was reserved for summer programming for kids. Both my wife and I work full time, so we know how hard summers are for families to juggle. I will continue to lead efforts to make sure that every family has access to summer care and programming for kids.
I have also championed billions in dedicated funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide the supports and services our students with disabilities desperately need to be successful. And moving forward, I will continue to fight for additional federal resources to get and keep all students on track to meet their educational goals and aspirations.
Along with this work, I believe that we have a responsibility to ensure schools are a safe, nurturing and inclusive learning environment for all students. To this end, I have introduced a suite of bills aimed at moving away from school discipline practices that push kids out of school and invest billions more in federal funding that would help schools implement alternatives that create positive school climates for every kid. This work includes the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would prohibit the use of dangerous seclusion and restraint practices in schools that disproportionately target students of color and those with disabilities, the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act, which would prohibit the use of corporal punishment in all schools, and the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, which would divert federal funding away from police in schools and instead provide $5 billion for school districts to hire social workers, psychologists, counselors, nurses, and other support personnel that give students the supports and interventions they need to stay in school and thrive.
I also believe high-quality education for all students means ensuring classrooms are diverse and reflect the variety of backgrounds children see in their own communities. That’s why I introduced the Strength in Diversity Act, which would commit federal resources toward voluntary efforts by school districts and states to desegregate their schools, as well as the Magnet Schools Accessibility, Growth, and Nonexclusionary Enrollment Transformation (MAGNET) Act to improve and expand upon the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) to ensure more kids and families can attend diverse, high-quality magnet schools.
As one of the youngest members of the Senate, I spend a lot of time focusing on ways to make it easier for students and families to pay for college, as well as ensure that all students leave post-secondary programs better off than they started. We need to revolutionize the way we think about higher education. I support efforts to lower borrowing costs and allow more students to refinance loans to lower rates. But I also believe that our higher education system is broken at its core. Costs are out of control, and too many colleges – especially for-profit institutions – are handing out degrees that aren’t worth the money students put into them. That’s why I published a groundbreaking policy paper on how the federal government can establish and strengthen broad-based accountability among higher education institutions so that students know the value of the degrees they are pursuing and we hold institutions accountable for poor student outcomes. Along with improving the quality of our higher education system, I believe every student should be able to afford a degree, which is why I am a cosponsor of the College for All Act, which would make public colleges and universities tuition-free for working families and significantly reduce student debt.
Finally, over the last few years, I’ve become one of Congress’s leading advocates for reforming college sports. Fundamentally, I think there’s something wrong with an industry that makes billions of dollars a year off the labor of athletes who make nothing at all. To fix these inequities, I’ve introduced legislation that would empower college athletes to collectively bargain for better compensation and conditions, the College Athlete Right to Organize Act, and legislation that would grant athletes unrestricted rights to make money off their own name and recognition, the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act.