The Civil Right To A Quality Education

Kamala Harris believes that meaningful access to education is a fundamental civil right, and she is fighting to ensure all California children have access to a high quality public education. In California, the right to a public education is properly enshrined in our state’s Constitution. As a prosecutor and the state’s top lawyer, however, Kamala has seen too many of our children denied this right through no fault of their own, depriving them of the tools to succeed in school and in life. Kamala believes that investing in education is a surefire way to ensure that children grow up prepared for 21st century jobs and helps children become productive and contributing members of the community. It is also the most cost-effective way to reduce crime.

Kamala’s work has shown that children who drop out of school are far more likely to wind up poor and become victims or perpetrators of crime than their peers. That’s why she’s been a leader in reducing elementary school truancy and ensuring students attend school beginning in their earliest years. She conducted the first-ever statewide study of elementary school truancy, finding that 40 percent of truant students in the state are elementary school age. Under her leadership, the California Department of Justice is working directly with school districts to instill best practices for lowering elementary school absenteeism. And she prioritized ensuring all children – from pre-school to young adults – have access to a high quality education by establishing the Bureau of Children’s Justice, which is dedicated to fighting discrimination and inequities in the education and foster care systems.

In the Senate, she’ll continue fighting for universal early childhood education so that students enter school ready to learn, and she will push forward policies that foster innovation and improve low-performing schools. As a Senator, Kamala will focus on getting more resources into classrooms and giving children a fair shot at success in school and in life.

  • Public Education Must Be More Equitable: Providing our children with a world-class education is the first rung of the ladder of opportunity and the first step to success in life. Unfortunately, too many schools lack the resources necessary to meet the needs of each student, and too many children are left behind as a result. Success in school shouldn’t be decided by where students live, the color of their skin, their immigration status, or their parents’ income.  Kamala is focused on eliminating disparities in our public education system, which will lead to greater community stability, economic growth and opportunity, and will put all of our children on a solid path to succeed.
  • Wrap-Around Services That Help Disadvantaged Students: Often children in underperforming schools simply are too overwhelmed by circumstances in their lives to be able to concentrate on their schoolwork. Every day in California, too many of our children come to school hungry, without appropriate clothing, and without necessary medical care. Kamala knows that one in six Californians has been exposed to traumatic events like abuse, neglect, or violence in their homes and neighborhoods, and that there is a direct link between trauma and adverse educational and health outcomes for children. Throughout her career, Kamala has been a leader in addressing childhood trauma. As San Francisco District Attorney, she helped create the Center for Youth Wellness, which is a national leader in responding to significant adverse childhood events and toxic stress in children. Kamala established the Bureau of Children’s Justice in the California Attorney General’s office, which includes a focus on childhood trauma and exposure to violence, and she led an effort to develop a statewide strategy for better serving children exposed to traumatic events. Too often, the schools these children attend lack adequate resources and services to ensure the students’ social, emotional, and health needs are being met. In the Senate, Kamala will give the highest priority to increasing resources for wrap-around services in our poorest schools so that children and families can have the services they need to keep students alert and focused in the classroom. Investments in supporting the whole student will lead to better educational outcomes and prevent children from acting out and turning to criminal activity in the future. Learn more about how education fits into Kamala’s criminal justice reform work.
  • Early Developmental, Behavioral, Health & Dental Screenings: Kamala believes it is more cost-effective to identify a child’s developmental, behavioral, health, and dental needs as early as possible to allow families, professionals, and communities to intervene quickly, rather than reacting through more expensive interventions later in life. In addition, regular health and dental screenings can ensure that children’s healthcare needs are identified and met, allowing them to excel in school and beyond. Vision and hearing screenings, in particular, are imperative to children’s learning. Kamala has also supported screenings for trauma in the elementary school setting, because she knows that students who are exposed to high levels of stress, trauma or violence can face barriers to healthy development.
  • Supporting Early Literacy Is Crucial: Children who are not proficient in reading by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out than students who are proficient, and high school dropouts are more likely be incarcerated and be victims of crime. As Attorney General, Kamala created the Bureau of Children’s Justice to focus on elementary school attendance because the overwhelming majority of chronically absent kindergarten and first grade students are below grade-level in reading by the third grade. As Senator, she will support policies that tackle elementary school truancy and increase literacy screenings, evidence-based interventions, and improved support to parents in strengthening home literacy.
  • Early Childhood Education For All: As a prosecutor, Kamala has seen how an investment in early education pays enormous dividends in a child’s ability to succeed later in life. Children shouldn’t fall behind in school before they even start kindergarten. Kamala would fight for early childhood education for every child, including expanding access to Head Start, Early Head Start, and creating national universal pre-kindergarten. Kamala fundamentally believes that participation in high-quality preschool programs has lifelong benefits for a child as well as for the whole community.
  • Quality, Affordable Childcare For Working Families: Kamala believes that high-quality, affordable childcare improves child development and strengthens families while bolstering our economy. Too many hardworking families barely earn enough for daycare, let alone other household expenses. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, as different families are in different situations and have different needs. In the Senate, Kamala will be a champion for affordable, quality childcare, before and after school. She will encourage businesses through tax incentives to provide daycare for the families of employees, and fight to expand and make permanent the childcare tax credit.
  • Ensuring Resources Get Into The Classroom: Kamala believes that we need to make smarter investments in our schools: from teachers and aides to infrastructure and technology. Funding for education cannot be a zero-sum game. One of the biggest indicators of success is how much money actually makes it into classrooms and touches students and addresses their needs. In the Senate, Kamala will support finding ways to get more money into classrooms and support services, staff, and programs that help our children learn and develop.
  • Fostering Innovation In The Education System: Many parts of our education system were constructed 100 years ago to train a workforce that is very different from the one we will need in the future. Kamala believes public schools, including public charters, should be incubators for education innovation. Successful new methods and practices should spread throughout the public school system to ensure that students have the advantages of the latest developments in educational innovation.
  • Teachers Must Be Part Of The Solution: Teachers are at the frontlines of our education system and are the premier experts on how local schools can be improved. Kamala strongly believes we need collaborative leadership to create change in our public education system by engaging teachers, parents and the community to find and solve the problems that plague many public schools, rather than having mandates imposed from the top down without local input. Meanwhile, our teachers are expected to fill too many roles in our schools – from educator, to counselor, to social worker – without the necessary support or training to do so. That’s wrong. Kamala believes we need to treat teachers like the professionals they are by setting high standards and giving teachers the training and professional development resources they need to meet them.
  • STEAM For 21st Century Jobs: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) education is the key to America’s future success. American students have fallen behind in attaining advanced science, technological, engineering, and math skills, even as jobs in these fields are growing twice as fast as jobs in other areas. Investments in STEAM education are critical to the nation’s global competitiveness and will help prepare students for 21st century jobs. Women, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are particularly underrepresented in STEAM careers. Students who enter college expecting careers in STEAM fields are more likely to complete their degrees, so it’s crucial to expose students at a young age to these subjects and encourage them to excel. But we’re also woefully underfunding art, music and creative programs that teach children to think critically and innovate. These programs are not only critical for children’s overall wellbeing and development, but help foster innovation in technical fields as well. Kamala will fight in the U.S. Senate to increase support for STEAM programs because America must maintain its long record of success in science and innovation.