A Transforming Breeze, A Chance to Create Access to Education
What a blast of fresh air blew through the country and New York State yesterday. This refreshing political revolution that embraces bi-partisanship and collaborative governing is right on the money for crafting smart policies foreign and domestic (at least that's the hope).
Congress and our new governor can catch hold of this spirit of change and have a dramatic impact on policy that affects poor and low-income families. Before the federal government's attack on access to education, the programs run at the state level demonstrated that training and education allows people to achieve economic security. The new Congress must take heed. Federal rules must change to enable poor families to move out of poverty by allowing them access to the training and education they want and need.
Over the last ten years of welfare reform, the laboratory of the states proved access to training and education aided families to secure long-term employment. Governors from both political parties touted education access as an essential piece of achieving economic advancement for poor families across the board. For any of us to advance justly, all of us must have equality of opportunity and government has a role to play when it comes to equality of opportunity.
The students and organization I work for, Welfare Rights Initiative (WR), have thought deeply about education and we recommend some important first steps for the new Congress and our new governor.
Congress can make education a priority in real terms by putting more money in education. Congress can establish that hours for Adult Basic, ESL, Literacy, GED, vocational and other training through to college count towards the required workfare welfare participants must perform to keep their benefits. Telling someone to choose between eating today and getting the education they need to eat tomorrow is an impossible choice but its one the current rules are forcing people to make.
Governor Spitzer can convene a New York State access to education and training forum. WRI, Hunger Action Network of New York State, Welfare Reform Network and other state, federal and city, education grassroots organizations have worked to build the political will to secure real access to education for all. New York should be an education first state and a dialogue up and downstate - both struggling with our own education and poverty problems, will be a first step in making that happen.
We have real challenges in achieving equality of opportunity. Education challenges so often intersect race, sex and class. Public schools in poor districts do not have the resources kids need to perform well. Adult basic education and English as a second language needs are vastly underserved. Nevertheless, it is clear by the transforming breeze of Tuesday that more and more of us are activists, organizers and believers that policy can change for the better when we work together.