The playing field gets rough and tough under new administration

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By Christian Smith

Education is only a “great equalizer” if access to it is made equal – not just by virtue of eliminating racial barriers, but also the financial ones inextricably linked with racial barriers. Following in the footsteps of plans advocated by progressive American leaders, and the State of New York, all students in this country can have access to an affordable four-year degree. However, this worthy vision will only be accomplished if we make it part of our national priority to achieve.

I have been involved with LULAC for many years, most recently, serving as Texas State Deputy Director for Young Adults. My personal mission has been the empowerment for Latinos to engage in their own prosperous enterprise, aided by their access to a quality, affordable education. Beyond LULAC, I make that mission central to my work.

As an Organizing Associate with Generation Progress’ Higher Ed, Not Debt campaign, I realize that my dream is grounded and doable. Higher Ed, Not Debt is a multi-year campaign of dozens of organizations dedicated to tackling the crippling and ever-growing issue of student loan debt in America. We have been advocating to ensure that a quality higher education is realistic for all, without the burden of financial hardship. However, our efforts are being hijacked by the Trump administration.

His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” would better be phrased “Make America Ignorant Again.” The writing was on the wall with his nomination of Betsy DeVos. Now, their game plan has been announced. In a nutshell, the education budgets are being slashed. Big time. Across the board. With the exception of funding for vouchers for charter schools.

Last month, President Trump unveiled his federal budget proposal. Even top Republicans in the state of Texas were jolted by the plans. Sen. Cornyn suggested the new budget would be dead on arrival. Let’s hope that’s the case.

The budget proposed is a complete about-face from what the President was bellowing on the campaign trail. Before the elections, he boasted that he would restore power to the people. His budget does just the opposite. He wants to slash foundational programs for most everyone except the uber-wealthy. The already conservative education budget, under Trump’s master plan, would reduce nearly 14 percent, or $9.2 billion. Those cuts include eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) programs–two programs that help make unwieldy student loan payments more manageable for borrowers.

Those two plans are important boosts for lower- and middle-income students, in particular. In Texas, the average 20- to 29-year-old borrower working in public service with a bachelor’s degree would be responsible for an additional $10,000 in loan payments. Of course, kids that grow up in households like the ones Donald or DeVos did, won’t be affected. As is the recurring theme of this administration, the “have’s” will get more, and the “have-not’s” will get less.

But, the cuts aren’t just attacking those in the lower- and middle-socio-economic brackets. The new administration wants to turn back time on Special Olympics, adult literacy, work study, teacher training, class-size reduction, after-school programs, Perkins Funds and vocational ed, among other things.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defends the cuts saying the proposed budget, “ensures funding for programs with proven results for students while taking a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.” That simply is not true. Most everyone who works in education, be that elementary, middle, high school or continuing, will tell you that investing in education is always the most cost-effective and wise approach.

Historically, LULAC has focused on education, civil rights and employment for Hispanics. Following, are a few LULAC milestones for which we have proven results over several generations.

  • 1933: LULAC formed a committee in San Antonio which led to the formation of the Liga Defensa Pro-Escolar, later known as the “School Improvement League” that fought for better schools and better education.
  • 1946: In Santa Ana, Calif., LULAC filed the “Mendez vs. Westminister Lawsuit” which ended 100 years of segregation in California’s public schools and became a precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education.
  • 1957: LULAC Council 60 in Houston piloted the “Little School of the 400” project, a pre-school program dedicated to teaching 400 basic English words to Spanish speaking pre-school children.
  • 1960: LULAC Council 60 in Houston transformed the Little School of the 400 to “Project Headstart” under the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.
  • 1973: LULAC formed the “LULAC National Educational Service Centers, Inc,” (LNESC) modeled after the successful project in San Francisco. Today, LNESC serves more than 20,000 students a year through its network of 16 educational centers. Since 1973, LNESC has awarded nearly $25 million in scholarships to Latino youth.

Christian Smith graduated cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, with a bachelor’s degree in government and a minor sociology.

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