Public education was once America’s biggest competitive advantage and the “port of entry” for new Americans. Our K-12 public schools need funds, innovation, and respect, college students shouldn’t have to borrow the cost of a first home to get a degree, and we must broaden community college and non-college post-secondary opportunities.

Infrastructure may be the backbone of our economy, but strong public education is the engine that drives our economy forward.

A well-educated workforce is foundational to growing our economy and spurring the type of innovation that is the hallmark of American economic power. In order to have a workforce that is capable of keeping up with the innovation economy and staying competitive in the global marketplace, we must have strong public education.

I believe in public schools and public-school teachers. We must restore a culture of respect for people who teach in public schools, and pay them according to the value we place on the future. Failing to adequately fund education, to trust our educators, and to compensate them for their work and their skills fundamentally drains the ranks of educators of the talented, thoughtful, proactive people who make education work. Public school teachers have held the ladder into the middle class for millions, and we are counting on them to do so for millions to come.

Schools do more than grant diplomas and prepare almost every American for the life ahead of us. They are the center of a community. Community schools deserve our support and we must defend them against those who would profit from stripping their funding.

Strengthening public education at the primary and secondary levels is non-negotiable, but we must also look to strengthen education at the post-secondary level. This means taking immediate action to make sure that college is affordable for future generations, while also working to address the student debt crisis for those already drowning in education-related debt. Like so many, I know first-hand the burden of enormous student loans, and I know that we must act now to help those struggling with existing debt.

I also understand that we need options for those who do not wish to go to college but want to expand their skills and education beyond high school. Apprenticeship programs, and vocational and technical schools provide a viable and attractive alternative to continue their education and training to pursue a career capable of sustaining a family.

We must work to strengthen these programs and inform our students about the array of options available to them if we want to build a strong, vibrant, and diverse workforce capable of responding to the demands of a rapidly changing economy.