The Katrina Act of 2006: A GI Bill for Mainstream of America
Images of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina expose a deepening crack in our democracy, a democracy rooted in educational opportunity for the mainstream of our nation.
“A memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation, instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.” (John Adams, elected 2nd President of the United States in 1796)
This country has a tradition of breakthrough initiatives aimed at making opportunities for learning ubiquitous, and these initiatives have been unequivocally successful. At the time Adams penned that statement, the nation implemented federal and state tax support for public schools. Seventy five years later in the 1860’s, the federal Land Grant Acts opened learning at the college level to mainstream America, working people who were primarily in agriculture and mining. In 1944, seventy five years after the emergence of the land grant universities, the GI Bill made college accessible to millions of veterans. The historical expansion of educational opportunity for the mainstream in America is the primary cause of progress in America---economic, technological, and social. Indeed, the preservation of our democracy and of America as a symbol of freedom and opportunity is inexorably linked with this expansion.
And yet we have failed to provide an opportunity for learning for millions of working people in urban areas. We need the equivalent of the GI Bill for the new mainstream—residing primarily in our cities. Just as before, we can not make this investment within an old paradigm. John Adams’s idea was highly controversial as were the Land Grant Acts and the GI Bill. Much of the resistance came from universities themselves, from those already on the inside who viewed those on the outside as too far behind and unworthy of investment. Thankfully, visionary political leaders persevered.
Throughout our nation’s history we have made significant financial investments in education that were difficult and unpopular with some; all of us are the beneficiaries financially, socially, and politically. We can and must do it again. Make no mistake about it; we know how to get this done and we know how to pay for it. And, the vast majority of those who would benefit are motivated and can catch up. Our children must look back in 50 years and take note of the vision and perseverance of today’s leaders, when they penned the Katrina Act of 2006.
I believe we can accomplish this via the following. I seek your input and ideas as well as examples of what is working.
For any American citizen older than 17 with family income under $40,000 per year.
Federally funded tuition for approved supplemental instruction programs and degree programs at the average cost nationally for community colleges, public universities, and internet education providers--- currently on the order of $100 per credit hour.
Licensing of internet providers—both not for profit and for profit.
Learning outcome assessment beginning with supplemental education and continuing through the associate and bachelors degrees.