Sen. Bernie Sanders believes every child should have access to the best education possible. As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Sen. Sanders has worked to expand early childhood education, supported innovative public school models that engage students and communities, and fought to make higher education more affordable for working families.
Early Childhood Education
Research has shown that roughly 80% of all brain development occurs before age 3. Accordingly, Sen. Sanders believes access to quality early learning programs is vitally important. When the Senate reauthorized the Head Start program in 2007, Sen. Sanders worked closely with teachers, parents, and administrators to make sure that the bill expanded eligibility for Head Start, included increased funding allotments for the program, and provided greater flexibility to use funds for Early Head Start (ages 0-3).
Sen. Sanders has been a vigorous opponent of the standardized testing regimen put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) because it narrows school curriculum and constrains the development of critical thinking and creativity. Instead, the Senator supports a system that would promote creative learning by doing away with “fill-in-the-bubble” standardized tests, and instead evaluate students based their understanding of the curriculum and their ability to use it creatively.
In an increasingly competitive global economy, we must ensure every student has the opportunity to pursue quality, affordable higher education. However, families are struggling to keep up with rising tuition costs, which have nearly doubled over the last ten years. Sen. Sanders has worked to expand funding for Pell Grants, and promote an innovative loan forgiveness program by which loans would be forgiven for college graduates who work in public service – including nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers. He believes we must do more to reverse this trend and make a college education affordable and available to all students. In addition, Senator Sanders was an original co-sponsor and key supporter of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which authorized the most significant expansion of Veterans’ education benefits in more than 50 years.
For the first time in American history, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the amount of credit card debt, totaling more than a trillion dollars. Two-thirds of college students who graduated in 2010 had outstanding loans, each with an average of $27,152 in debt. The problem is even more acute in Vermont, where nearly 70% of college graduates have student debt, averaging $28,860.
Sen. Sanders believes that at a time when higher education in the United States is far more expensive than in any other country, we must alleviate the burden of student loan debt by guaranteeing affordable loans to students, and allowing graduates to refinance their federal student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. In the long run, we must overhaul the Higher Education Act to make college affordable for every young person who has the ability and the desire to continue their studies.