As income inequality reaches record highs, we must ensure that all children have access to a top quality education. The need for a quality education starts early in a child’s life, before they even enter Kindergarten. This is why Leah supports federal funding to ensure all students have access to top quality Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) education programs. Currently, funding for Pre-K programs mostly comes from state and municipal funds, creating a two-tier education environment based on socioeconomic status. Research shows that students who have access to quality Pre-K programs have better outcomes through the 5th grade versus students that did not have access. This research demonstrates Pre-K programs result in higher test scores, a lower chance of being held back a grade, and fewer children needing placement in special education programs. These outcomes equip our children for success as they progress to middle school, high school, and beyond. In Congress Leah will fight to ensure all children have access to top quality Pre-K programs.
This issue is close to Leah's heart, as she completed her Masters thesis on the topic of using Pre-K as a means to close the achievement gap between white students and Latino students in Minnesota. On the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests given each year in reading and math and science; 70 percent of white students pass each test, while only about one third of African American, American Indian, and Hispanic students pass the exams. To help close this achievement gap that exists across Minnesota, investing in quality Pre-K will ensure Minnesota stays a place where all kids are “above average.”
Teacher shortages are nothing new for school districts entering a new school year, but for the 2017-2018 term, shortages have risen to crisis levels. Teachers are leaving the profession at the fastest rate in years due to low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, and insufficient resources. A recent study showed that teachers on average spend over $500 a year out of their own pocket on classroom supplies and this out-of-pocket expense increases in school districts with higher levels of poverty. These factors have led to fewer college students deciding to become teachers, with teacher education enrollment decreasing 35 percent from 2009 to 2014. These shortages are even more acute in rural districts, where smaller cities and towns need to share teachers in order to fully staff classrooms. To help stem the loss of teachers in rural areas, Leah will fight to protect the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program which helps teachers manage their student debt regardless of where they are employed.
Leah knows that these decreased numbers of teachers are unsustainable and are substantial economic and social risk factors for the nation moving forward. To help stem the loss of teachers and help recruit qualified candidates to fill these open positions, Leah is committed to increased funding for teacher pay and classroom supplies. The resources required to educate the next generation should be shared with the nation, not just put on teacher’s shoulders.
Since leaving the FBI, Leah is employed as adjunct faculty at Augsburg University. Every day, she sees students struggling with the burden of student debt. In Congress, Leah will fight for debt-free college tuition for all students at public universities, supporting Sen. Bernie Sander's College for All Act.
Leah knows that struggling college students can't wait for debt relief. Her plan includes doubling the current maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000 per school year and annually adjusting the Pell Grant award for inflation. Also, she will remove the provision to tax Pell Grant dollars as income if these funds are used for non-tuition but education related expenses. If a student has a need to take on education debt, Leah will introduce legislation that will lower the effective interest rate on both undergraduate and graduate student loan debt and place all borrowers that are in repayment immediately in an income contingent repayment program.
As a public service employee serving in the federal government in Minnesota, Leah knows the value of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLFP). In Congress she will fight to protect and expand this program to include other professions that go on to serve communities in need. Leah will also work to support partnerships between existing institutions to create a four-year college pipeline in under-served areas by expanding access to community colleges. Her plan includes creating a federal/state funding partnership where qualifying community colleges are tuition free for two-year students.