In recent months, Congress has approved trillions of economic stimulus dollars, but in this post, Noguera and Boyd argue for a different kind of public investment they say is way overdue. Here’s their piece.
By Robert Boyd and Pedro Noguera
This is the point in America’s election cycle when political candidates love talking about the importance of giving a great education to all kids, especially children of color and children from low-income families.
A solid education, they say, will enable students to go to college and access career opportunities. Better schools, they say, will pay off in a stronger economy and healthier citizens, perhaps even increase civic participation and create more vibrant communities. A few will even talk about their commitment to social justice and fundamental human rights.
Some might even mean it.
As men of color who have dedicated our lives to advancing opportunity, we have heard variations on these statements echoed most of our six decades on this earth. Over. And over. And yet still over again. We are weary of rhetoric without commitment. We need action, action in the form of a massive public investment that actually covers what it costs for children to have quality schools and be safe and healthy.
So, with all due respect America: put up or shut up.
Our ask is simple and reasonable: a trillion-dollar investment in the education and health care of children from low-income families.
Why a trillion dollars? In simple terms, this is how much it will take to affect significant change. Some may call this amount too ambitious or too impractical, or dismiss us as quixotic dreamers. They may accuse us of throwing money at a problem. But years of research show that effective spending on education and preventive care has a positive impact. Not surprisingly, big problems usually require big solutions that are ambitious in scope and scale, and yes, cost a lot.
The federal government also antes up in tough times, from massive stimulus bills that bailed out banks during the 2007-2009 economic crisis to the more recent covid-19 relief efforts. Indeed, the Paycheck Protection Program even managed to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars meant for small-business recovery loans to billionaires and publicly traded companies. If we can help the wealthy, surely we can afford a New Deal-style investment in our children?
From personal experience, we know the direct impact that well-spent resources can have on kids’ futures. We both grew up working class in New York City, the sons of police officers. Thanks to our fathers’ union contracts, we had access to quality health care. Later, as classmates at Brown University, we saw firsthand how a top-notch education can open doors and how it changed the course of our own lives. Unfortunately, access to quality health care and education were the exception and not the rule for children of color like us.
The fact that healthy kids learn better is not in dispute. Not only must we ensure that all kids have access to high-quality academic learning, we must also care for each child’s social, emotional, mental and physical health needs. This notion of approaching education and how we care for children holistically isn’t an original idea — but for the most part, in this country, it’s only been an idea.
In 2020, as we confront the lethal intersection of covid-19, systemic racism and poverty, we have a moral imperative to make this idea a reality — now and not some vague tomorrow. We must seize this moment to revolutionize the destiny of a generation, the more than 25 million children served by Title I schools. But we have to be willing to go big and go bold.
Here is how we would invest the trillion dollars:
End the digital divide: In the country that created the Internet and is home to the world’s greatest technology companies, we should not have 17 million children living in homes without high-speed Internet and more than 7 million kids without computers at home. If technology and telecommunications companies won’t help voluntarily, we should tax them and dedicate those revenues to closing the gap.
Keep kids safe and healthy: All students deserve access to primary, behavioral, oral and vision care. Of our nation’s 100,000 schools, pre-pandemic, fewer than 3,000 have school-based health centers. These centers have proven to reduce parent time away from work and to improve students’ academic performance. Now, more than ever, vaccinations, medicine management, wellness checkups and emotional support should be available to all students. And the pandemic’s disparate impact points to the need to train more people of color as school health professionals.
Hire more teachers, especially people of color, and pay them better. It is a fact that smaller class sizes enable better student learning. We also know research shows that students perform better academically when taught by a teacher of their own race or ethnicity. Right now, less than 20 percent of teachers are people of color — and only 2 percent are Black men — who can serve as strong role models for young Black students. Requiring philanthropies and private university endowments to contribute to such an effort or be taxed seem like reasonable approaches.
Restore programs that engage students. We should reinstall music, art, physical education and recess to the curriculum — the rejuvenating elements in a child’s school day that fuel creativity. We should engage innovative experts in the arts, culture, sports, technology, media, health, wellness, and curriculum and facility design in this endeavor.
Connect with the community: Models for what we propose already exist in the nation’s community schools. A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships that closely links schools with resources and organizations in the surrounding community. Community schools employ an integrated approach, bringing together academics with health, social services, youth development, community development and community engagement. Studies show that this strategy leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.
Fix or rebuild aging schools: The average age K-12 public school is America is more than 50 years old, even older in many urban areas. Not surprisingly, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave school infrastructure a miserable D+ grade. They are long overdue for both immediate repairs as well as comprehensive renovations that would enable them to meet the needs of 21st century learners. School facilities must be tech-ready, welcoming, flexible, adaptable and safe. Among the most immediate infrastructure concerns are coronavirus-related: Most schools are simply not equipped with proper ventilation systems to address airborne contaminants.
Rather than treat schools as places that warehouse children, or push a societal problem onto the backs of educators and health professionals, let’s be creative about how we educate and care for our youth with the greatest needs. It’s time to put our money where our children are, cultivating the next generation of critical thinkers, problem solvers, public servants and entrepreneurial innovators.
Today, we are calling for a revolutionary commitment from all candidates for federal office: Within the first 100 days of taking office, pass legislation appropriating a trillion dollars for the education and health care of low-income children, $200 billion annually over a five-year period.
Over the coming weeks, we will hear politicians discuss all kinds of issues. But on Nov. 3, we will vote based on what we hear — or don’t hear — about their willingness to honor this pledge. We encourage you to do the same.