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With America’s Kids Heading Back to the Classroom, Are Schools up to the Challenge?

Parents and students shop for back-to-school supplies

SOURCE: AP/Seth Perlman

Parents and students shop for back-to-school supplies. America must invest more in its education system and in its students of color if the next generation is going to be competitive and prepared to enter the global workforce.

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See the other stories on this trending page for a review of progressive and conservative ideas and actions related to the U.S. education system from early childhood learning through college-degree attainment.

The first week of September traditionally marks the winding down of summer and the return to school for generations of American kids. But the American children coming of age today are facing harsh competition, not just among themselves in their classrooms but also from students halfway around the world.

The just-released CAP report—“The Competition that Really Matters”—warns that America’s school children are falling behind their counterparts in places such as India and China and aren’t being adequately prepared to successfully compete in the global economy. According to the report, both India and China are “rapidly increasing their share of children enrolled at all levels of the education system—from early learning programs to high schools to universities.”

Here at home, however, conservative lawmakers in Congress are cutting school funding to balance state budgets and are pushing federal policies that will make it harder for poor and middle-class students to attend college. Yet in her speech at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called education “the civil rights struggle of our day.” That is a statement that can be embraced by progressives and conservatives alike.

That’s why backing progressive policies that would improve education and access to colleges and universities is imperative. This is even more critical when one considers that, in terms of spending on students of color, our schools are as unequal as they were in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared public education “a right which must be made available on equal terms” in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Read our report “Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color” to get the details.

As our children head back to school, we need to do all we can to prepare them for success. As CAP’s President Neera Tanden points out: “We need a commitment from the very top to invest in America’s children and families … Only a renewed leadership on education as a national priority and real investments at all levels of government will enable the United States to remain economically competitive, and we owe it to the next generation to act now.”

See the other stories on this trending page for a review of progressive and conservative ideas and actions related to the U.S. education system from early childhood learning through college degree attainment.

Carl Chancellor is the Senior Editor at the Center for American Progress.

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