Education is a Public Obligation and Individual Right

Part X: A Manifesto for the United States of America

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX.

The system of education in the US is failing at every level except for private, heavily endowed or extremely costly institutions for the wealthy and privileged. Students of all ages are increasingly viewed as “profit centers” for private enterprise to exploit. Private charter schools now operate many public schools for the benefit of their investors, not their students.

Public state-run universities that were founded on the principle of free education to all are no longer fully supported by public resources, and have become unaffordable to many. Students must take loans, which are profitable to the banks but chain the students to debts that often last nearly a lifetime. The federally guaranteed student loan programs that began in the early 1960s were a response to the gradual disappearance of free public universities. It was a way of passing on the cost to the students while assuring a nice profit to financial institutions. It follows the trend of helping the wealthy elite put their greedy hands in the till until there are no public trusts that are not contracted out to for-profit institutions.

This is a disgrace that must end. Many countries in the world provide better quality and more complete public education supported by taxes and thus by the entire community. Education is necessary and must be free and accessible in order to assure that all individuals are able to participate to the fullest in building their future, defending their rights, and empowering themselves and their community. It is hard to imagine a viable nation or society that does not invest public funds in the welfare of its people.

Here are some of the changes that need to be made in order for public education to keep its promise to the public and where all persons have equal access to a quality education, regardless of income level:

  1. Full and free high-quality public education must be made available to all persons at all levels of education and training up through the highest levels of graduate and medical school. Public funds must be prohibited from being used to subsidize private schools. There will be no charter schools.
  2. Public education will be supported by federal funds only, so as to assure equal educational opportunity to all, regardless of state or territory of residence.
  3. Funds for public education will be provided to native first nations at the same rates as to U.S. states and territories. First nations will have complete discretion over the administration, teaching curriculum and standards of their educational institutions.
  4. The expenditure per pupil will be the same nationwide except for cost variations due to cost of living in different localities. Class size will be standardized nationwide in accordance with recommendations by ,and through negotiation with, teacher unions and educational associations.
  5. A universal, federally funded childcare program for pre-school and young schoolchildren will be provided. The service will be accountable to the parent users and the caregivers.
  6. Subsidized university housing will be made available to students in public universities who maintain their academic standing, and according to need.
Paul Larudee is a retired academic and current administrator of a nonprofit human rights and humanitarian aid organization. Read other articles by Paul.