Summer is almost over and the November election is just around the corner, which means that Americans are once again strapping themselves in for the metaphorical bumpy ride to the finish line.
But while the focus for the next few months will largely center on the main candidates, big headlines and the litany of promises each party will make, we ought to be paying just as much attention to the acts taking shape in Washington right now, as congressional Democrats are launching yet another election-year broadside against education choice.
As a parent and an educator, it frustrates me to no end that a sizable number of politicians and bureaucrats have made it their life’s work to thoroughly control education from Washington.
As a retired naval chief petty officer who spent 27 years teaching leadership skills to help prepare thousands of young men and women for their future, I am outraged that career politicians are brazenly working to steal educational and career opportunities from the courageous men and women who wear the uniform of our nation.
But here we are again, with yet another Democrat-sponsored bill that would essentially deny veterans the opportunity to use their GI Bill tuition assistance at the education establishment of their choice. Their plan targets the 90/10 funding rule that applies solely to the roughly 260 private career-oriented colleges often attended by veterans and adult learners.
The 90/10 rule is already a restriction on career training institutions that limits the percentage of tuition they can accept through federal student loans. To deny GI Bill assistance to count toward this formula would force many of these institutions to close, leaving veterans and other adult learners back at square one.
Let’s forcefully remind the Democrats pushing this change that GI Bill tuition assistance is not an entitlement like a guaranteed loan but a benefit earned through service, and it represents a promise America made to our veterans through the GI Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, to politicians like bill sponsor Rep. Donna Shalala, Florida Democrat, promises to veterans are just not important. Miss Shalala, of course, is the former university president of a school that would be exempt from the law change she proposes, which is precisely the point.
Democrats have long been in cahoots with the elitist educational establishment, made up of exclusive private schools and taxpayer funded state universities who don’t want competition that would undermine their power base or challenge their stranglehold on education funding.
They have even enlisted front groups in their efforts, such as Veteran Education Success (VES), which is staffed with Democratic operatives and former Obama White House officials. Make no mistake; their mission isn’t “success” for veterans but total victory for the entrenched education establishment.
But this power play comes at the expense of real people who will suffer and lose the opportunity to earn a valuable degree toward a new career. Traditional four-year colleges are far too expensive and inconvenient for the millions of non-traditional students seeking to earn degrees in a specialized field. Learners such as working adults with families, minority students with limited options, and, of course, our veterans will pay the heaviest price by removing career-oriented schools from the equation.
And this attempt to sink career-oriented colleges would hurt our nation beyond students being denied an education. Though we are still in the midst of an economic downturn, America has a long-term shortage of millions of needed skilled workers in critical areas of our economy, including in industries such as nursing, construction, network security, hospitality, lab technicians, machine operators, cosmetology and many others that offer good-paying careers and opportunity for advancement.
Career-oriented schools greatly benefit our entire nation by helping fill employer demand for jobs critical to economic growth.
Miss Shalala and her crowd always claim these bills are to “protect” students from shady institutions, but this is a lie. Congress has a myriad of ways to protect students across the board at every institution — not just at career-oriented colleges.
At a time when traditional students are swimming in debt and graduating with degrees that too often fail to gain them full employment in their chosen field, it is not career-oriented colleges that require higher scrutiny, yet it is always this segment that attracts attention for oppressive federal regulations.
Career-oriented schools aren’t propped up by taxpayer dollars and are constantly innovating in order to find ways to best serve their student population. They are by-far the leaders in online learning, flexible class schedules and grading periods, and in providing workplace experience. Their teachers are often top professionals who offer a cutting-edge education in their fields, as opposed to tenured professors who have spent decades in the ivory towers of academia.
COVID-19 has been a stark reminder that the old ways of doing things no longer work for the vast majority of today’s learners, as teleconferencing and telecommuting are now more firmly ingrained into our economy and our institutions.
While traditional schools race to catch up with flimsy substitutes such as Zoom, career-oriented colleges have already set the standard for online and hands-on education. And unlike at traditional universities, which have become bastions of far-left indoctrination and intellectual intolerance, career-oriented schools represent a haven where students are free to learn in an open environment welcoming of all viewpoints and backgrounds.
The top-down approach may work in the military, but in the field of education the future is in greater competition, continual innovation and consumer empowerment. This means students should be the ones who get to decide how to spend their tuition dollars, not politicians in Washington. It’s time to end the nonsense, to expand education choice for those who have earned the right to achieve a better future and deliver on our promise for every student.
• Jarome Bell served in the U.S. Navy for 27 years, retiring as chief petty officer. He now serves as a spokesman for Veterans for Education Choice, a non-profit public education project.