Free College Is Cool But When Will Presidential Candidates Start Talking About K-12

Jun 28, 2019 12:00:00 AM


I was a first-generation college student who considered dropping out my freshman year because I couldn’t pass math. 

As an honor student who attended high performing schools my entire K-12 career, I was devastated when I got to college and found out I wasn’t ready. I thought I wasn’t smart enough. And I watched many of my high school classmates navigate those same doubts and insecurities. We felt duped.

So because the issue of a quality public education is personal and important to me, it kind of pisses me off when it comes off as a non-issue for elected officials—like in the Democratic candidate debate this week.

No one really touched on K-12 education. I mean, they didn’t even breathe on it.

Instead, they stood on soapboxes yelling, “Give Americans free college and/or loan forgiveness.”

Huh? How are they talking about free college when some kids are barely making it through high school? Because to me it sounds like they’re putting a shiny cart before a ragged horse.

When it comes to literacy, only 37 percent of 12th graders are proficient or advanced in reading. So how are the 63 percent who are at or below basic proficiency supposed to get into college if they can’t even read the application?

Students attending schools in poorer districts are receiving $1,000 less in per pupil funding. How are they expected to be successful and go to college when they have less resources through the gate?

And why should Black and Latino kids have faith that they’ll be treated any different in college when they’re victims of unfair discipline policies and practices and constantly seen through a biased lens? As shameful as it is that we had to set policies to protect Black, Brown and special needs students in schools, having a conversation about restoring those Obama-era discipline guidelines would be nice.

Then, considering some of these candidates’ past and current policy stances, there are a few things on a long list of concerns that I need them to address.

During the debate, Joe Biden got called out by Kamala Harris for being a self-proclaimed civil rights advocate who didn’t support school integration through busing. How are we supposed to trust him on the greater issues of equity and school access?

Bernie Sanders has been tweeting that all students, regardless of their race or socio-ecomic status, should be able to attend college. But how are they supposed to get there if he ignores and wants to limit the options that parents believe will get their kids to college?

And most of the time, I’m rooting for everybody Black.

But I need Kamala Harris to explain her reasoning behind earlier policies that imprisoned Black and Brown parents as a punishment for truancy.

Let me be clear, (*in my Bernie Sanders voice*) this pandering through offering free college and student loan forgiveness is cute. But me, and other activists, families in low-income and underserved communities and the students who are trapped in failing schools want to hear the plans for improving K-12 education.

And it’s cool if all 20 of y’all have extensive plans listed on your websites. But if you want our vote, we shouldn’t have to go searching for your platforms, you should be talking about all of them.

Photo by LightFieldStudios, Canva-licensed.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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