In an increasingly competitive global economy, we must ensure every student has the opportunity to pursue a quality education. Senator Sanders has worked hard to lessen the burden of tuition and student loans, replace No Child Left Behind, and to create an innovative loan forgiveness program by which loans are forgiven for college graduates who work in public service – including nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers.
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. More than two-thirds of college students who graduated in 2014 had outstanding loans, each with an average of $28,950 in debt. In Vermont, 65 percent of college graduates have student debt, averaging $29,060.
In May 2015, Senator Sanders introduced the College for All Act to address the crisis of college affordability. This legislation would provide $47 billion in federal funding to incentivize states to increase investments in their public higher education systems and eliminate tuition for undergraduate students.
The College for All Act would also slash new student loan rates from 4.29% to 2.35% for undergraduate students, and graduates with existing debt would have the opportunity to refinance outstanding loans at the new low interest rates. In addition, this bill would greatly expand the Work Study program, and make it easier for students to apply for financial aid.
Most other advanced nations make sure their citizens can pursue higher education without being left with a mountain of student debt. Colleges in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden do not charge their students any tuition at all. Germany phased out tuition fees of $1300 per year because that nation's leaders believed the fees were a barrier preventing students from pursuing a higher education.
Senator Sanders has worked to expand Pell Grants and 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. He has also advocated for “dual enrollment” programs, which allow high school students to take college courses that count toward both high school and college graduation requirements. Dual enrollment programs are especially beneficial for low-income and first-generation college students, as they introduce participants to college and encourage successful academic careers.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Early Childhood Education
Senator Sanders believes access to quality early learning programs is vitally important, as research has shown that roughly 80 percent of all brain development occurs before a child reaches three years old. When the Senate reauthorized the Head Start program in 2007, Senator Sanders worked closely with teachers, parents, and administrators to make sure that the bill expanded eligibility criteria, increased funding for the program, and provided greater flexibility to use funds for Early Head Start (ages 0-3) programming.
Senator Sanders was a vigorous opponent of the standardized testing regimen put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) because it narrowed school curriculum and constrained the development of critical thinking and creativity. He supported the Every Student Succeeds Act, which became law in December 2015 and did away with the worst aspects of NCLB. Every Student Succeeds moves us closer to a system that promotes creative learning by reducing the number of “fill-in-the-bubble” standardized tests and instead evaluates students based on their understanding of the curriculum and their ability to use it creatively.