As the former chancellor of Washington D.C. Public schools, I saw students study hard, do well in school and go on to graduate. But with diplomas in hand and caps in the air, some of these teens had their hopes dashed by a single form -- the FAFSA. That's the document students fill out to secure college loans. It requires a social security number -- something children brought here without the proper legal documentation don't have.
These are kids who have done everything we've asked of them -- stayed out of trouble, went to school, set their sights on college and careers, and excelled. However, they can't pursue their dreams, because of decisions made by others and a system that is broken.
I started StudentsFirst because we have to change the way we approach education policy. For too long we've put the competing interests of the "grown-ups" -- unions, administrators, school boards -- at the center of our education policy. No one won, and students lost. We need to change that approach and do what's right for our kids, not the adults. That's why I support various reforms to improve teacher quality. And that's why I am supporting the DREAM Act.
The legislation pending in Congress would put undocumented children already in the U. S. and who have done what's been asked of them on a path toward legal status if they go to college or serve in the military. The bill, which has been debated for years and which appears to be gaining new momentum, would allow these driven young people to be eligible for student loans and work-study programs.
Immigration is not my area of expertise, but I do know it makes no sense for us to educate these children, see them succeed academically, and then send them packing. It's estimated that by 2020, this country will have 120 million highly skilled jobs but only 50 million workers qualified to fill them. Putting these talented Americans on a path toward citizenship is not only the right thing to do -- it's the smart thing to do.
I recently participated in a panel discussion on ABC This Week with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who has said he was brought here illegally as a boy. Jose talked movingly about having to hide the truth and about being aided by educators and employers. No child should have to live in the shadows or lie about their background, and no educator or mentor should have to cover up for a student or employee.
We have chance to do what's right for our students and for our country with the DREAM Act. These young people were raised in America with American hopes and dreams. It's the country they know, and the country they love. It's the country that needs their talents. Let's find a way to do what's best for them and for our country. Let's pass the DREAM act.
Follow Michelle Rhee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@m_rhee