Congressman Kweisi Mfume (Courtesy Photo)

The American Families Plan can transform Education across the country

By Congressman Kweisi Mfume

The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced a comprehensive new policy proposal called the “American Families Plan.”  This policy proposal seeks to address a number of challenges in the everyday lives of the American people.  It covers different areas from tax reform to childcare to paid leave to unemployment insurance reform.  At the center of the initiative is education.  It makes major investments in pre-K, K-12, and college access. 

Education is one of the most important factors in helping young Americans get off on the right foot in life. It enables them to create good quality lives for themselves, while also contributing to society and giving back to their communities.  Certainly, there are many variables that go into a young person’s future success.  But education is a pivotal part of the process.

It has long been established that providing a child with pre-K education will grant benefits to that child which can be reaped for many years into the future.  Research shows that kids who attended universal pre-K are more likely to take honors classes and less likely to repeat a grade.  They have better attendance, fewer behavioral problems, and will ultimately graduate from high school at higher rates.  Later in life they are more likely to be employed.  Their parents have significantly higher rates of participation in the labor force, thereby allowing them to acquire greater financial resources for their family.  Programs like these can help to mitigate the effects of poverty and adversity on learning.  

The Families Plan will establish a national partnership with states to offer free and readily accessible preschool to all three-and four-year-olds.  This $200 billion effort will benefit five million children and save the average family $13,000 in lifetime costs.  It will first prioritize high-need areas and enable communities and families to choose the settings that work best for them.  The programs are designed to be high-quality, have low student-to-teacher ratios, and provide a supportive classroom environment that is inclusive for all students.  Finally, it will attract the best educators to this field by offering them job-embedded coaching, professional development, and wages that reflect the importance of their work.

The Families Plan focuses on K-12 education in a very different way than these types of proposals often do.  It places emphasis on teachers, and the vital role they play in helping us prepare our nation’s children for the future.  Teachers are the ones who have the unique ability to touch a student’s heart and give them the belief in themselves that is necessary if they are to move forward in a positive way.  You could say they are the first line of defense in preventing young people from going down the wrong road in life.  If we can give them the tools that they need to improve our education system, we can count on them to deliver the results that they have repeatedly shown themselves capable of.   

The United States currently faces a teacher shortage.  Schools across the nation are estimated to need an additional 100,000 certified teachers.  The Families Plan seeks to rectify that by doubling scholarships for future teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degrees.  It also targets $900 million for the development of special education teachers.  Most significantly, it invests $9 billion to address teacher shortages, improve the quality of training and support for educators, and boost teacher diversity.

Teacher diversity is an often-overlooked part of our efforts when helping to cultivate our teaching force.  We have seen that teachers of color can have a particularly strong impact on students of color.  About one in five teachers is a person of color, while approximately 50 percent of our K-12 population is comprised of students of color.  The Families Plan devotes $2 billion to support programs that leverage teachers as leaders, such as high-quality mentorship programs for new teachers and teachers of color. These programs have been shown to improve teacher retention by providing new teachers with the support that they need.  

The Families Plan focuses on quality, not just quantity.  It invests $1.6 billion to provide educators with opportunities to obtain additional certifications in high-demand areas, like special education, bilingual education, and certifications that improve teacher performance.  It also seeks to capitalize on teachers’ abilities to lead in other areas that their schools are involved in, and to fairly compensate them for this work.  The goal is to create a cycle where we deliver better results for our children, while school districts save money that they can put back into their schools.

College has stopped being affordable for far too many Americans.  The Families Plan seeks to address that challenge.  It offers two years of free community college to all Americans.   The $109 billion plan will ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college for free.  Students can use the benefit for a period lasting up to four years.  Additionally, it dedicates $85 billion to Pell Grants for low-income individuals, increasing the maximum award by $1400.

The Families Plan pays special attention to the needs of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities.  It creates a $39 billion program that will provide two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year HBCU, MSI, or TCU.  It also invests $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to these schools, along with $2 billion to build a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees.

The Biden-Harris Administration has demonstrated its commitment, through this plan and others, to upgrading our nation’s education system.  The American Families Plan is a remarkable blueprint for helping this country propel our educational efforts forward and allowing us to fully develop the great potential of our citizens.  I look forward to helping shape the policies and debates related to the American Families Plan in Congress this summer.

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