We can't let our politicians betray the promise of education to millions of our youth.
President Obama himself has proposed eliminating summer semester funding for federal Pell grants. The overall Pell grant program helps more than 9 million low-income students gain access to higher education each year.
Republicans in the House of Representatives want to go further, slashing the entire program by 15 percent. This could knock out 1.7 million students from the program and severely reduce funding for those who remain.
As a result, college will become more and more the province of the rich. This trend is happening already. Academically qualified low-income high school graduates have seen their enrollment in college drop from 54 percent to 40 percent between 1992 and 2004, according to a 2010 report to Congress by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. With the new cuts, this rate is likely to go down much further.
At the state level, governors are taking a meat ax to public education across the board.
Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker plans to cut funding for the public education by $900 million. New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent budget calls for a 25 percent reduction in state funding for public education, leading to tuition increases and the elimination of programs. California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced his intention to slash $1.4 billion from the state's public higher education system. Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated Texas Statehouse has announced its intention to reduce the state education budget by as much as 15 percent over the next year.
By savaging public education budgets, these states are assaulting our fundamental principle of equality of opportunity, a principle that has provided a path forward for working families. Instead of squandering the potential of the next generation, we need to invest in it.
To do anything less is not only heartless; it is undemocratic.
Justin Akers Chacon is a professor of U.S. History and Chicano Studies in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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