Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business:
Now that election season is behind us, I want to encourage our country to come together and show unity, starting with what’s most important: our children.
Education is more crucial than ever. Study after study proves this. And given that we live in the wealthiest country on the planet, we have every opportunity to deliver a great education to every student. Yet we are failing miserably to prepare our kids to succeed. In Chicago, fewer than 1 in 5 public school students will attain a college degree by age 25. In other parts of our country, the number is even lower. Millions of U.S. students—particularly those from low-income backgrounds—are never going to have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
A quality education is a civil right. I don’t see education as a Democratic priority or a Republican priority; it’s an American priority. And there are actions we can take right now to create a better and more equitable education system. It starts with ordinary citizens. In fact, it’s important to remember that every major social movement in our country started with private citizens taking a stand. This is the time to start: Giving Tuesday is coming up on Nov. 29. I encourage you to give generously, and give wisely. Make your dollars count. We have finite resources. Put them to the best use. And it doesn’t stop there. Volunteer. Advocate. Get engaged however you can.
Private citizens can get a movement started, but it’s up to our federal government to take that momentum to the next level. Education needs to be a top priority for the Trump administration. A good start would be appointing a secretary of education who has experience in revitalizing school systems that serve under-resourced populations. We need a leader who possesses the vision and wisdom to create policy that will positively impact all districts, particularly those that need help the most.
Finally, I want to implore our state’s elected leaders to simply Get It Done. The time for arguing and finger-pointing and scoring political points is over. Illinois desperately needs its elected leaders to come together and pass legislation that will move our state forward. Specifically, we need a real budget that brings financial stability to our state and a funding formula that provides equitable resources to our schools.
Improving education is not easy, but I have every confidence that we are up to the challenge. I know that Democrats and Republicans have differing views on many issues, including education. And I acknowledge that compromising can be difficult. But now is the time to see past our differences, find common ground and take action.
Our children deserve it.
Liam Krehbiel is founder and CEO of A Better Chicago, a nonprofit devoted to improving the quality of education for Chicago’s low-income youth.