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Beto O'Rourke calls for a sweeping $500 billion fund to address education inequality

Beto O'Rourke on 2020 Texas run

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is releasing a plan to address structural inequality in education ahead of his appearance at the NAACP National Convention in Detroit Wednesday.  The plan, obtained exclusively by CBS News, includes the creation of a $500 billion "Permanent Fund for Equity and Excellence" in an effort to close the funding gap between predominately white and non-white school districts.  

Other tenets of the plan include ending racial disparities in school disciplinary measures, providing student debt relief for educators and investing in the teacher pipeline to increase diversity within the teaching profession.

"Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, and America's schools still remain segregated," O'Rourke said in a statement. 

"The effects of a system where students of color are disciplined at alarmingly higher rates than white students, where funding favors white school districts over nonwhite districts, or where white teachers far outnumber black teachers live on well beyond students leaving the classroom. We must be relentless in our fight for equity and full opportunity in our schools, our education system, and across society."

According to a February report by EdBuild, an advocacy and research group that focuses on school funding, predominately white school districts receive $23 billion more than predominately non-white school districts in state and local funding, even when they serve the same amount of students.  O'Rourke's permanent fund would aim to close that gap while also making sure states and districts allocate funds weighted based on the number of "low income students, English learners, students with disabilities or other groups of students in need of additional resources."

The fund would be financed with a tax on Wall Street speculation. "This would increase the cost of a $1,000 stock purchase by just $1 but would cut down on the destabilizing speculation of high-frequency traders," the O'Rourke campaign says.  The plan states that the permanent fund would not replace existing federal programs supporting public schools.

In a recent Medium post addressing his family's history of owning slaves, O'Rourke pointed to this disparity and said, "I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others. That only increases the urgency I feel to help change this country so that it works for those who have been locked-out of — or locked-up in — this system."

The plan also calls for an end in racial disciplinary disparities.  Citing figures collected by the Government Accountability Office that show black children are more likely to be disciplined, suspended and expelled than white children, O'Rourke vows to issue a federal ban on corporal punishment in schools and provide funding for schools to implement teacher preparation programs to "address racial bias and cultural competency." 

According to the campaign, the disparate treatment of color faced by children of color "contributes to the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline."

Another component to the plan is working with Congress to "relieve the outstanding debt of educators and other professionals working in our nation's public schools." This would be accomplished by granting teachers who have worked more than five years in a public school total loan forgiveness.  The plan says "others would have their student loan payments suspended while teaching in public schools, have 20% of their principal forgiven per year of service and total loan forgiveness after 5 years of service."

Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics found during the 2015-16 school year that racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 20% of all public elementary and secondary school teachers while 51% of students were nonwhite.  O'Rourke's plan hopes to change that by investing $500 million per year for postsecondary institutions to "partner with high need school districts to create residency programs."  According to the campaign, teaching residencies have been proven to improve gender and racial diversity in districts.

An additional $500 million would go toward the creation of teacher academies at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to provide scholarships for low-income or first generation students pursuing teaching.  The funds would also support mentorship programs for students in teaching programs by teachers of color in the community.

Finally, the plan would provide support for educators advancing their careers by providing free tuition to acquire a graduate degree and ensuring federal funding to cover the costs of national board certification. 

Fellow Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have released plans that call for similar tenets.

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