I ended a lesson discussing the American Constitution with my head spinning a bit today. Leave it to middle school students to bring raw reality to life through poignant comments about their concerns and aspirations, which they believe are not being currently addressed by their government. Though my students bought in to the ideal that our government was designed by the people and for the people, they were skeptical that our country was working to advance citizens’ rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I get it. Even I find myself wondering if Congress still believes it upholds these American ideals when their most recent tax reform legislation reflects something very different. My students aren’t even aware of how much this proposed legislation will hurt them and their families.
How can our legislators speak of Life when mandates in this legislation eliminate many provisions of Medicaid and Medicare, which will place strain on senior citizens, many of whom are the grandparents caring for my students. How can they afford to care for family when they cannot afford to take care of themselves because of an increased tax burden? How does that support a quality of life for all?
How can they speak of Liberty when our older students will be tied to burdensome student loans and debt after attending college and trade schools instead of going to work and starting their lives contributing to the economy? Scrapping the deduction of student loan interest, and refusing to ever let the loans be renegotiated, undercuts our own workforce, who need continual education to fulfill modern jobs. Additionally, the current bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. This destroys support for students who provide the foundation of new ideas and the hands of labor in many government agencies and nonprofits that provide critical services to our own citizens in need?
How can they speak of the Pursuit of Happiness when this tax legislation will curtail the federal deduction for state and local taxes, yet permit deductions for private schools? With the implementation of this measure, cities and counties will have a difficult time raising money for schools. After all, this is where the majority of schools raise the money needed for their budgets. Add in the fact that districts will not be allowed to use “advance fund bonds” to refinance debt to a lower rate, and you have a recipe for a school funding disaster. Research shows that education is the key to future success. How will that happen without the means to fund quality educational programs for all of our students?
The ideals set forth by our founding fathers can be realized, but only if we offer a level playing field for our children to have an equal chance at opportunity. We must realize that this legislation will reduce the chance for success for our students, and create children and future adults who are bound by debt, taught in schools which cannot afford funding, and won’t have guardians that can afford to care for them due to their own medical debts.
In many respects our society mirrors the turbulent times of the 1700s when our country was founded. My students told me that it feels like there is once again “a king” in this country. When will our true patriots rise up to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?
We cannot wait for an answer. It is time to fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. Education gives us the power to do just that; this national tax legislation does not. It’s time to do what is right for America and forego this legislation which is short sighted, non-research based, and divisive. Only then will we truly live up to the ideals laid before us in 1776.
Michelle Pearson is the 2011 Colorado State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She is a middle school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thornton, Colorado, where she has been teaching for 25 years. She also is a Heart of Broomfield recipient and active in preservation of Broomfield history. This post originally appeared as an op-ed in The Broomfield Enterprise.