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Our Future, Our Vote: What’s at Stake in Election 2016?

Future educators speak out on political engagement and issues that will drive them to the polls

Millennials could be a huge force in the upcoming U.S. presidential election—and that would be a good thing for public schools.

In 2015, those between ages 18–34 numbered more than 75 million strong in the U.S. and comprised the majority of NEA Student Program members. Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse and politically progressive cohort in history. Compared to older voters, they are more likely to say the nation should invest in public education and ensure that hard working Americans should share in economic rewards, rather than pad the fortunes of an elite few.

But making sure the values of these NEA members are reflected in the way they live means that their voices must be heard, throughout the election and at the voting booth.

“This election will determine the atmosphere of our schools as we begin our journey in the classroom,” says NEA Student Program Chair Chelsey Herrig.

“Our next president will influence everything from teacher preparation and the resources we’ll have to help us succeed to solving the student debt crisis. And he or she will appoint the next secretary of education, who must help rebuild the respect our profession deserves,” says Herrig.

“If we don’t participate in the election, we are missing out on our first big chance to advocate for our future students and our profession.”

Briana Schwabenbauer

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Volunteers with special needs students at a local elementary school

There’s no question in Briana’s mind that she’s made the right choice pursuing a teaching degree.

But when she sits down to calculate how much she’ll owe when she graduates, the dread sets in.

“I have had to take out both federal and private loans, and with interest I expect to owe $46,000 in student loan debt,” says Schwabenbauer.

“I worked throughout high school, saving for college, and now I work 15 to 20 hours per week—more, some semesters. But it’s nowhere near enough to make my dream of going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and becoming a teacher a reality,” she says.

Like Schwabenbauer, 42 million Americans carry student loan debt that adds up to $1.2 trillion. Early in the campaign, candidates were asked to address how they would make college more accessible and student loans more manageable. It’s an issue that Briana Schwabenbauer says will be at the front of her mind as she heads to the polls in November.

“This debt is a burden on my future as well as my current situation,” she says. “I would eventually like to go back to school— either for public administration or law—but how can I save for that and pay down these student loan bills of about $500 per month when a starting teacher salary in Wisconsin is $32,000 a year?”

Megan Namnama

Montclair State University

Pursuing a career in dance education

Megan Namnama is looking for a candidate who will bolster public education. But to earn her vote, that candidate must also make clear they support and celebrate the diversity found within our public schools.

“One of the biggest things that will serve as my deciding factor is whether I feel like that candidate’s views represent me as a whole person: as a woman, but also as a minority.”

There have been times, Namnama says—painful moments—when she realized she was not being taken seriously because of her gender or her race.

In the dance world, for example, Namnama has never fit the typical profile. “As an Asian girl with a single mother who had two other children to support by herself, it was difficult keeping me in dance classes. And going to college auditions was even harder because you can see how differently they treat you sometimes if you aren’t this tall, White, thin dancer.”

That’s exactly why Namnama decided to pursue a career in dance education rather than performance.

“I do love performing, but the idea of giving students the opportunity to discover dance is what’s driving me, especially if I can open doors for students who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.”

And Namnama wants to cast her vote for a candidate who shares those values. “I would love to elect someone who is working to expand opportunities for everyone, especially through public education, on the national level. Our students need someone who’s willing to open doors and speak up for them.”

Drew Boso

Youngstown State University senior

Studying to become a high school math teacher

College affordability is a top issue for Boso who says that lagging federal education funding is another issue that resonates with him.

“It just doesn’t make sense that we have these unfunded federal mandates like IDEA,” says Boso, referring to Congress’s failure to fund even half of its commitment under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“You can create the greatest policies to help students, but if you aren’t going to commit to them financially, it’s hard to believe that they are really that important.”

When those federal laws go unfunded, the costs are shifted to state and local governments, which have made a bad situation all the worse in Drew’s state of Ohio.

“We don’t have a good system for funding our public schools, because it relies so heavily on property taxes, which creates this crazy inequality between districts in Ohio,” he says.

It’s time for the federal government to hold up its end of the bargain and fund the federal programs that are meant to serve the nation’s most vulnerable students, says Boso, and he wants to support a presidential candidate who believes the same.


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