Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

For the Next Generation

Mar 15, 2010

We often teach our children that a solid education is the key foundation for their future, no matter what their personal ambitions may be. Education brings a world of opportunities, opens the door for intellectual development and advancement in society, expands a student’s horizons, and, at the very least, provides a support mechanism for improved quality of life. Collegiate education is, after all, often the difference between a minimum wage job and the pursuit of the American dream. So if we collectively agree that higher learning is a necessity for our children to succeed in an ever-globalized world, why are we making it increasingly difficult for them to attend college?

On March 4, police near downtown Oakland, California, arrested some 150 students, teachers and concerned citizens following a march that forced the closure of a freeway in both directions. Angry over increasing tuition, diminished facilities, lack of financial aid and layoffs across the board, these protestors joined students and teachers at more than 32 state/community campuses across the country in what was termed a ‘Day of Action to Defend Public Education’. These frustrated students and educators held teach-ins, rallied in the street, signed petitions, marched to administrator’s offices, formed human chains, blocked intersections, faced arrests and some even risked expulsion. But at a time when costs are skyrocketing and services are disappearing, these young men and women could not and cannot sit idly by – and neither should we.

At a news conference on Thursday, March 10, the Education Committee Chairmen, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Rep. George Miller of California emphasized the need for the White House and Congress to include an education proposal in the current budget package. The direct-lending proposal would in essence end subsidies to private lenders and instead allocate these funds to expand existing federal student aid programs such as Pell grant scholarships for low-income students. And the quickest and most efficient way to get this money to those who need it most in these desperate economic times is to ensure that we include it in the budget resolution just as we are including health care legislation.

In September of last year, the House passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act which invests $40 billion to increase the maximum annual Pell grant scholarship to $5,550 per student in 2010 and to $6,900 by 2019. Coinciding with the President’s goal of producing the largest number of college graduates by 2020, this legislation initiates the first step towards secondary education for many of the country’s struggling families. But if we do not ensure that the $87 billion that would be saved over 10 years from eliminating for-profit lending subsidies will be transferred directly to students immediately, we will once again cave in to the lobbyists and uphold the status quo.

As the debate over health care legislation continues in Washington and elected officials harp over virtually every detail, we must urge them to attach the student-lending program to the budget reconciliation package. I echo Mr. Harkin and Mr. Miller in the argument that if we do not do this now, we frankly may never ever get to it. And if we truly believe that the children are our future, than we should do everything in our power to alleviate their burdens today – for they are the ones who will be carrying the torch tomorrow.