The Horace Mann Plan for Education | Dave Cavell for Congress

The Horace Mann Plan for Education

My first job out of college was as a 4th grade public school teacher in the South Bronx in New York. I had 32 students with unlimited potential, all of whom had been failed by the system before they ever stepped inside my classroom.

I have seen the deep inequities that plague our public education system. Horace Mann once called education the “great equalizer” in our society, and today we must continue working toward that vision by ensuring all families have access to high quality education. Investing in education and investing in young people is one of the best decisions that our government can make. 

As your representative in Congress, I will advocate tirelessly for our community to ensure the federal government invests in holistic, equitable education–from early education and universal pre-k all the way through post-secondary training–so that our kids are ready for meaningful lives as citizens, workers, and community members.  I will work to increase the federal education budget by reforming the partnership between our federal government, states, and communities, to make sure that every child has the resources they need. In today’s crisis, that means fighting tirelessly for municipal relief in the next round of federal stimulus funding so that we keep our public schools afloat.

The Fourth District of Massachusetts is home to the very first public school in the nation. Our state and our district have always been leaders in public education, and as your representative, I will carry on that legacy. There has never been a more important moment in our lifetimes to fight for public education. As the only candidate in this race who has actually taught in public schools, I am ready for that fight.

I. COVID-19: Safely Reopening Our Schools

In the midst of this crisis, we must vastly expand emergency federal funding of public education. That’s why I propose doubling federal education spending to make sure that students can continue to learn during and after Covid-19.  

COVID-19 presents the greatest threat to public education in our lifetime. Yet this crisis also presents an unprecedented opportunity to reinvest in our nation’s public education. Congress must increase funding and support to our schools to ensure that they are ready to open efficiently and safely for students, teachers, and all community members involved. I will urge the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Education to provide more comprehensive federal guidelines for how our schools can open while still ensuring safety and health as a priority. 

II. Universal Pre-K for All Three- and Four-Year-Olds in America

Public education in America must begin with pre-k for every child so that our children develop the skills they need to succeed. Pre-K is too important for childhood development and wellbeing for some students not to have it. That’s why it’s time to ensure that children and families have access to universal, affordable Pre-K. Pre-K is an investment in children, families, and communities that we can no longer wait to make. As a member of Congress, I will propose or support legislation that will:

Promote alignment between Pre-K centers and primary schools, including teacher certification, union status, and professional development.

Improve family outreach to connect parents to pre-schools.

Focus on social-emotional learning to make sure children are ready to thrive in kindergarten and grade school.

Promote a phased expansion of the federal funding given to states for comprehensive childcare (through initiatives like Early Head Start), with a focus on ensuring that high-quality childcare is accessible to low-income communities.

Ensure quality, public primary and secondary education for all, including during COVID-19.

III. K-12 Education

Our K-12 system does not give every child a fair shot. If you are born into the “wrong” zip code, you can face years of poor education, resulting from underfunding and disinvestment in public school. As your member of congress, I will use federal dollars to make up for inequities that exist between school districts and even individual schools. 

I will also champion a more inclusive idea of what readiness and “success” mean. For too long, our definition of success in schools has been driven by two things: reading and math scores. Schools were either rewarded or punished depending on those factors. But this way of doing things takes too narrow a view of student success and wellbeing. I will support reforms to our current education law, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that promote more holistic measures of student success, school success, and student wellness.

We need to make public education more equitable by increasing federal funding to marginalized communities.

The way we fund public education in this country is broken, and it has been for a long time. Our current reliance on local tax revenue to fund schools results in massive inequities between students located in lower-income districts with declining property values and students in wealthier districts. Moreover, this funding link has led schools today to be more segregated than schools thirty years ago.

 

As a 4th grade public school teacher in the South Bronx, I was shocked at the disparities in education quality in  the mile between the South Bronx and Manhattan. This experience still resonates with me today and is what motivates me to work toward a truly equitable funding of public education. 

 

Here’s how we can do that: 

 

First, we must increase emergency federal stimulus funding to all schools, and especially those schools serving poor and marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot allow teacher layoffs and technology inequities to increase achievement gaps, nor can strained municipal budgets be balanced on the backs of vulnerable students. 

 

Second, we reduce any measures that divert funds away from our public schools that need them the most. Efforts to expand charter schools often end up taking away funds that many of our public schools desperately need to provide a quality education to the students they serve. That’s why I support measures like H.R. 3795 and H.R. 1639, which outline disclosure and accountability standards to make sure that charters are actually serving the populations they purport to serve. 

 

Third, we allocate federal money to make up for what Title One fails to cover. It is a grave injustice in this country that rich cities and towns have rich schools, and poor cities and towns have poor schools. Congress can help remedy this by providing direct federal funds for school districts whose per capita budgets fall in the bottom third for their state. Closing the achievement gap in this country means closing the resource gap, and only the federal government can do that. 

 

Fourth, we must invest in our most important asset in education: our teachers. That’s why I support treating our teachers like the professionals they are by strengthening unions, requiring states to outline plans to support professional development for their teachers, and ensuring that teachers earn a living wage. I will find more ways to partner with teachers and teachers’ unions so that states and educators have leeway to create comprehensive, holistic, teacher evaluation and professional development standards. I also support revamping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to encourage college students to enter the teaching profession. 


Finally, we must make sure that our kids are ready to enter the world and thrive after graduation, and that means focusing on student wellness and growth beyond test scores. For too long, our education policy in this country has focused on raising reading and math scores, as though that were the full measure of a child or the full goal of public education. I will support an expansion of ESSA that builds in new metrics for student and school success. These measures will include include school integration (ending academic “tracking” and incorporating more traditionally vocational education back into secondary school), nutritious school breakfasts and lunches for every child, social emotional learning education for students and teachers, recess time, civics education, financial literacy, and the use of school space for community programing, and especially senior programming.

Before Covid, we already faced a crisis in access to technology, disparities which are especially stark in black and brown communities. Twenty-five percent of black teenage students reported an inability to finish their at-home assignments due to inconsistent computer access or unstable Internet connection, compared to only 13% of white students. To close the achievement gap, we must focus on equitable access to technology.


That’s why I’m calling for every public school student in America to receive a personal school-issued laptop. I support expanding the school day and expanding hours for school resources (like libraries and computer rooms) so that students can have access to the programs they need. Finally, I will propose that the Department of Education conduct technology audits to ensure that certain minimum standards are met across the nation. The results of these audits can be used to inform federal funding to make sure, once and for all, that no child is left behind.

Horace Mann called education “our only political safety.”  I believe this to my core—our system of government only works if the citizens of this country understand how it works. Without an informed citizenry, we cannot hope to keep our government accountable or distinguish between real news and “fake” news. I will propose the greatest civics education overhaul of the K-12 curriculum in our generation. It is imperative that students learn about their government so that they can become responsible stewards of our democracy.

Charter schools were never intended to be, and should never be, a second track that competes with public education. Charter schools were originally intended to be limited, specialized laboratories for innovation. Today, however, they have become today a second, often exclusive, track for primary and secondary education in America. This cannot go on. That is why I support the NAACP’s proposal to place a moratorium on the federal funding of charter schools, at least until charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as other public schools. I also support legislation to ban for-profit charter schools. There is simply no room in the American public education landscape for these kinds of institutions.

 

Yet at the same time, charter schools have some role to play. In many communities, charter schools are valued because of the real improvements they have made to students’ lives. I think the solution, therefore, is not to eliminate charter schools outright, but rather to go back to the roots of charter schools. Charters can serve as limited, closely overseen experimental spaces in education, but they must never be expanded to the point where they rival public schools for enrollment. 

 

To make sure that charter schools remain consistent with our vision for universal public education, I support legislation like H.R. 3795 and H.R. 1639, which will require higher disclosure and accountability standards for charter schools so that Congress and the public can make sure that charters are not crowding out our system of universal public primary and secondary education.

On my first day in Congress, I will introduce the George Floyd Education Act. This Act would call for the implementation of Black history education into the US public school K-12 curricula. Black history is not only a piece of our country’s narrative; Black history is the history of our nation. 

 

Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, we must educate all Americans about 400 years of brutalization, systemic racism and marginalization of Black lives. With the protests, we are witnessing major progress on reimagining policing in our communities. We must make sure that this progress continues. In this moment of pain and possibility, we must make another commitment: Every single student in America should learn about Black history and the legacy of racism in the United States, and about why our country has arrived at this moment.

 

For far too long, young people have grown up without learning about legally enforced segregation in housing, schools etc. It is time to change that 

 

The George Floyd Education Act will create a national commission to develop a curriculum and recommend how to implement it. We will bring together leading educators, historians, students, teacher organizations, and leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, NAACP, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Obama Foundation and others.

 

Ultimately, every student in American public education will engage with writers spanning decades who provide windows into the lives of Black Americans: Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates. With the central goal being to create a national expectation that students will engage critically with Black history and racism.

IV. Higher Education

Higher education remains inaccessible for millions of people. For those who do enter the system, too many students are failed by it, graduating with mountains of student debt and degrees that don’t translate into high-paying jobs. As your member of Congress, I will reform higher education to make sure that every American has access to quality, tuition-free public higher education. I will also work to reform our higher education system so that students get a fair deal and don’t go bankrupt just to get a degree.

Higher education has never been more important than today. Yet at the same time, navigating higher education has never been more daunting. When my dad attended college, tuition was $34 each semester for a world class public education at U.C. Berkeley. It’s time to move back to a system like that--where higher education is publicly funded, affordable, and high quality. 

 

To move toward tuition-free public higher education, I propose:  

 

First, the federal government must partner with states to increase state funding of higher education. The path toward tuition-free public higher education must go through the states. In Congress I will propose legislation that would match state funding and make federal aid to public colleges and universities conditional on states maintaining adequate education budgets. 

 

Second, we must make colleges and universities more transparent and accountable to students. In addition to providing more higher education funding, we must also require accountability from the schools who receive this funding. I will propose that Congress create a database to closely monitor student debt and employment statistics as a way to hold schools accountable. If students are consistently graduating with outsized debt, poor employment outcomes, or high default rates, it should trigger a Department of Education review and audit of that institution’s practices. One outcome of the review process could be a temporary price cap on tuition to encourage institutions to make their education affordable. I also support prohibiting “balance billing” whereby schools demand payment from students beyond what the federal government will provide in the form of student loans. 


Third, for schools that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on capital management fees with private hedge funds, it is time to seriously consider an endowment tax. Schools that invest hundreds of millions of dollars with hedge funds are making risky and unsustainable investments, and the government should not encourage this kind of behavior by granting these institutions tax-exempt status. I will propose legislation that would impose a tax on endowments that are investing a certain percentage of money into hedge funds and not enough into tuition reduction and other needed student services.

Our funding of higher education has been broken for decades, and the result is that we are bankrupting a generation and preventing them from pursuing their careers, starting families, and buying homes. My wife and I have over $300,000 of student loan debt. When I decided to run for Congress, we looked at that number and discussed seriously whether we could afford to do this. It became clear that I needed to run for Congress because we were in so much debt.

 

We cannot go on like this any longer. That is why I support a plan to eliminate student debt for the vast majority of borrowers. I support a plan to eliminate up to $50,000 of student loan debt, which would cover 95% percent of the borrowing population. I will also support legislation to cancel outright all student loan debt from students defrauded by for-profit institutions. For the millions of graduate students and professionals who have more than $50,000 of student loan debt, I would substantially strengthen the public service loan forgiveness provisions so that students will be incentivized to devote their careers to public service. I also support stronger income-driven repayment plans, lower interest rates, and debt cancellation after 20 years of payment.

When I was in the Obama White House, the President issued landmark new guidance on how schools should treat survivors of campus sexual assault. The Devos Department of Education has, predictably, overturned those guidelines. As your member of Congress, I will fight to restore the Obama-era guidance. I will also ask Congress to create a commission to examine sexual assault on campus and to recommend national guidance for how to deal with sexual assault cases, and most importantly, how to prevent sexual assault from happening.

V. Vocational and Workforce Training

In the United States, there must be more than one pathway for Americans to make a good living. Through vocational education at the secondary level, and through workforce and life-long education, we can provide the education and credentialing that students need to pursue meaningful careers and to lead successful lives.

We must prioritize CTE and invest in it so that students can exit high school with a degree or certificate that qualifies them to enter the workforce. I will support legislation that adequately funds CTE as a national investment. I will also work to cultivate a partnership between schools and technical workforce companies in need of vocational student-workers, making sure that appropriate numbers of students are trained for certain careers that are in need of workers. I will also work with CTE experts and states to make sure that certificates and degrees are widely transferable, so that talent in this country is mobile and can go where it is most needed.

We must start treating our workforce education the way we treat research and development in this country. The federal government invests billions of dollars every year on R&D, and we give tax credits and incentives to companies who invest in R&D. We must make sure that these same incentives and funding streams exist for workplace training and development so that businesses can invest in workers. 

 

In Congress, I will create tax incentives for businesses to educate workers on the job. I will also support stronger unions: when unions are strong, workers are better able to negotiate for quality on-the-job training. I will oppose so-called “right to work” laws that are nothing more than a front for gutting unions. Lastly, I will support a stronger voice for labor to advocate for worker retraining and education. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) created state workforce boards to help coordinate among government, workers, and business. I will reform the WIOA to make sure that labor has a stronger voice on these boards. Workers and labor unions know what is best for workers, and that is why they must always have a seat at the table.

Dedication to life-long educational and retraining opportunities is a key component of a thriving community and a thriving country. I will work closely with communities to use existing infrastructure to run adult enrichment courses and workshops, making use of community spaces to offer a wide range of courses and recreational activities. Retraining opportunities must also be readily accessible to all adults looking to develop and expand upon useful skill sets.

 

Education is a lifelong journey and it cannot be addressed in a one-size-fits-all manner. It is important that we research, target, and curate different resources for each segment of this population to ensure equitable continued education, lifelong enrichment and personal growth.