Last week voters across the country approved measures that will change the face of American education.
In California, Proposition 30 passed, allowing for a tax increase on the wealthiest Californians to fund K-12 schools as well as state colleges and universities. In Washington and Georgia, voters passed a law to allow charter schools to operate, leaving only eight states left who haven’t put a similar law into effect. In Maryland, the Maryland DREAM Act Referendum passed, allowing undocumented students who meet certain requirements to pay in-state tuition rates at Maryland public universities and community colleges.
Though Prop. 30 is the first general tax increase passed in two decades in California, though charter schools are still more experimental than an educational norm and though the federal DREAM Act has not officially been enacted, voters supported all of these measures. The fact Americans are willing to vote for the progressive and sometimes controversial solutions to our educational ills signals a shift in education reform that President Barack Obama must recognize and encourage in his second term.
For those who doubt the power these measures might carry for reform, it’s important to recognize the impact they have already had. Because Prop. 30 passed, the Cal State system already announced it would rescind a $249-per-semester tuition increase that began this fall. It also postponed action on increasing “incentive” fees for students who repeat courses or take more units than they need to graduate — fees that would raise an estimated $30 million in revenue, but at the cost of the educational experience of many students who need to retake courses or want to take more than a full load.
And thanks to Prop. 30, the Los Angeles United School District did not have to cut instruction days down. It would have become the district with the shortest school year in the country, but now has restored the district to its normal 180-day school year. The fact that Prop. 30’s tax increase was vehemently opposed by many Californians but still passed speaks to their commitment to saving our state’s schools — something Obama should continue to promote for the entire nation.
Fortunately, the president has already done so by recognizing the importance of charter schools, lauding them as “incubators of innovation” in a White House press release last May. As government-funded public schools that operate independently of public education regulations, charter schools are just that. They allow for creative instruction and provide options for parents and children at a time when public school quality and access are declining. And charter schools’ survival are based on student achievement — if they don’t meet certain achievement standards, they close — so they are far more committed to helping students do well. However, opponents decry that charter schools suck much needed money from public schools and that their effectiveness has yet to be proved.
Washington and Georgia’s new laws further demand that charter schools be officially incorporated into modern educational reform. Obama has stated his support of charter schools, but should be more vociferous about their benefits in order to remove their stigma as radical alternative schools.
But perhaps the most controversial change that took place last week was Maryland’s DREAM Act Referendum. Maryland joins 11 other states that have DREAM Acts, including California, but it is the first to pass the measure by popular vote. In a country with a struggling economy and educational system, this is truly progressive and something America needs more of.
It’s time to dispel the anti-immigration sentiment when it comes to students who are working equally — if not harder — to get an education and serve a country that, for most, has been their home their entire lives. And allowing undocumented students to attend college, and thus attain higher education and enter higher levels of the workforce, will only boost the economy.
There is no better way to accomplish all of this than for Obama to do everything within his power to officially pass the federal DREAM Act before his second term is over.
The 2012 election signals Americans are willing to take many steps forward on education that, even four years ago, they might have resisted. Obama must match this commitment and use his second term to push forward legislation that might be unpopular, controversial or not wholeheartedly supported, but will help save the future of American education.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish and is the Daily Trojan’s Editorial Director. Her column “Beyond the Classroom” runs every other Thursday.