With the Senate debating reform of No Child Left Behind, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke on Wednesday about other issues affecting young Americans. While acknowledging that "No Child Left Behind must be reformed," Sanders focused on early childhood education and youth unemployment.
"This is an issue of crisis proportions that we are not addressing," Sanders said of youth unemployment. The average real unemployment rate for white 17-20 year-olds is 33.8 percent, according to an Economic Policy Institute report cited by Sanders. That number includes those who have no job, those who are working part-time but would prefer full-time work and those who have given up on looking for work altogether. For young African-Americans, the real unemployment rate is 51.3 percent.
"It is no great secret to anyone that without work, without education, and without hope, people get into trouble," Sanders said. "They get into destructive activity or self-destructive activity." Sanders noted that the United States has more people in prison than any other country, including communist-led China.
While some would see that as a reason for criminal justice reform, Sanders confined his case to creating better opportunities for young people. "It makes a lot more sense for us to be investing in jobs and in education than to be spending billions of dollars on jails and incarceration."
Sanders' solution to rampant youth unemployment is a simple one: Give state and local governments money to hire young workers. Specifically, he argues for $5.5 billion to employ one million people between ages 16 and 24. Job training would also be included in that appropriation.
"Some people would call $5.5 billion a lot of money," he said. "It is. But it's a lot less expensive to provide jobs and education to our young people than to lock them up and to destroy their lives."
None of the other four senators running for president has given a floor speech about the No Child Left Behind replacement bill as of publication.