BY SHARON MARTIN
How many of our students have the opportunity to actually choose what they want to be when they grow up?
A student from a poor family might make good grades, even graduate valedictorian. He has dreams of becoming a doctor, a teacher, an accountant or interior decorator. Because of his grades, he will have his tuition covered at a state school.
The nearest state school is 30 or 40 miles away. He has no vehicle and no money to pay for student housing. He may qualify for a student loan if he understands his options. He may qualify for grants, if he can navigate the system. He can get a part-time job.
If he jumps all the hurdles, he may graduate, but chances are good he will be saddled with student loan debt, too much to even consider law school, medical school, or a graduate program. It’s unlikely he can afford summer internships or other opportunities.
His only post-graduate option is a job so he can pay off the loans. And he’s better off than the majority of his classmates.
This is reality in America. We mouth platitudes about the importance of education then deny access to those who need it the most. We underfund schools. We count students out before they even start because of their families, lack of a stable home life, neighborhoods, and a dozen other situations beyond their control.
We put college and career training farther and farther out of the reach of the needy while we complain that there are no trained workers to fill our jobs. We cut taxes on those who can afford to pay them, and charge students on loans eight times what we charge banks.
We won’t turn around this situation in a generation, because it has been generations in the making. But if we don’t start now, it will never be turned around. We must fund our poorest schools, providing opportunities to students that parents cannot. We must make college affordable and expand access to trade schools without saddling the new trainees with thousands of dollars in debt.
We will, every one of us, have to pay our share. Quit complaining. Quit putting up roadblocks. It’s time to start funding solutions.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer