We have a choice: Are we going to tell our young people that they are on their own, or are we going to invest in them – and in our country’s future?

I believe we have a responsibility to prepare our children for all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead with the skills and education needed to get good jobs, to support, encourage, and reward our educators, to improve our schools, and to provide every child with an education second to none.

A great public education for every child in America

Every child in America, no matter how much money her family has or where she lives, should be able to get a great education at a quality public school.

Massachusetts is home to the first public school in America, and our state continues to lead the nation in K-12 education. But to build on our success, we need the federal government to be a strong partner. That’s why, as Congress worked to reform No Child Left Behind in 2015, I fought to make sure that federal education dollars would go to the schools and students most in need of those resources. Thanks to the work we did, states are better able to support struggling schools.

I also worked to make sure that parents and educators have better information about how well schools are serving different groups of students. For example, I worked with Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) to pass new transparency requirements about how vulnerable groups are performing to ensure that all children are receiving a great education.

Strengthening education in America means supporting public school teachers. A great teacher can make an enormous difference in a child’s life. I remember when my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lee, told me that I could be a teacher, too. No one in my family had graduated from college. Mrs. Lee changed my world, and my very first job out of college was teaching special needs kids in a public elementary school. I deeply appreciate what public school teachers do to support our kids, day in and day out. The federal government must work alongside teachers – not against them – to improve the quality of America’s schools.

We also need to recognize that many students face special obstacles to their education. To close the achievement gap, we must make sure our public education system creates opportunity for all our kids – including students of color, students who come from difficult family situations, students with disabilities, students whose first language is not English, and other students who have been historically underserved. At a time when economic inequality leaves too many children far behind before they even get started, we need to continue support for programs that help level the playing field, like the school lunch program and programs to provide more learning time before, during, and after school in Massachusetts and across the country. I worked to extend funding for these kinds of expanded learning time programs through a bipartisan legislative effort with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Affordable child care and universal early education

I still remember how hard it was to find child care for my two-year-old daughter when I was starting law school. I know firsthand that finding quality, affordable child care is often a major roadblock standing in the way of parents trying to get and keep good jobs and provide for their young families.

America is experiencing a child care crisis. Over the past generation, the cost of child care has jumped nearly 1,000 percent. Middle-class families often find that quality child care is as expensive as college tuition. We need to lift that financial burden and put child care within reach of every working family. That’s why I worked hard to successfully double federal child care investments in the 2018 federal budget.

Just as we need to provide every parent with help balancing work and family, we also need to provide every child with early education. The research is clear: Meaningful investments in early education and preschool pay off for children and for our communities. That’s why I worked with a bipartisan coalition to support early literacy programs. And it’s why we must commit to universal preschool so we can give every child in America a fair shot at success from day one.

Accountability and the student debt crisis

The federal government must also work to hold colleges accountable for providing students with a quality, affordable education. That includes cracking down on predatory for-profit colleges that load their students up with debt in exchange for useless degrees – or even engage in outright fraud as they try to sucker more students into enrolling. I worked with the Massachusetts Attorney General to push the U.S. Education Department to cancel the fraudulent loans of 4,500 Massachusetts students who were cheated by American Career Institute and over 28,000 students across the country cheated by Corinthian Colleges (and I made sure that discharged loans wouldn’t wind up adding to students’ tax bills). And I pushed the Department to issue stronger rules to protect students in the future. Shady for-profit colleges shouldn’t get to suck down huge amounts of taxpayer dollars while ripping off hardworking young Americans – and any regulators or college accreditors who let it happen should lose their jobs.

No matter what we do to help future students finance their education, we can’t forget that over 44 million Americans are currently being crushed by nearly a trillion and a half dollars – that’s almost $1,500,000,000,000 – in student loan debt.

This enormous debt load is holding young people back from starting businesses, buying homes, saving for retirement, planning families, and making the kinds of purchases that secure their place in the middle class and keep our economy growing. Multiple federal agencies have sounded the alarm about the student debt crisis and its risks to our young people and our economy. It’s time for real action.

We need to help people struggling with student loan debt by allowing them to refinance their loans, which could lower their interest rates and their monthly payments. That is why I have repeatedly introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would enable students the chance to do exactly that. The very first bill I introduced as a Senator was to provide relief to student borrowers. For students who go into public service careers, we should strengthen programs that forgive their outstanding debt. We need to make sure that student loan companies, debt collectors, and federal contractors treat borrowers fairly. For people whose debt has simply grown too big to ever pay off, we should restore the right to discharge student loans in bankruptcy, offering them the ability to start over.

Finally, we need to take a hard look at how the Department of Education operates its student loan program. The federal government shouldn’t profit from federal student loans. Students trying to further their education represent critical investments in our future – they shouldn’t be seen as profit centers for the federal government. And the federal government should hold student loan companies and contractors like Navient more accountable for delivering high quality customer service to student loan borrowers that helps them manage their debt. Too many student loan servicing companies have been busted for cheating students, yet they still get paid hundreds of millions of dollars by the federal government to help administer the student loan program. This has to stop. We need to hold the Department of Education accountable so that it puts the interests of student borrowers ahead of the profits of private student loan companies.

Investing in all education paths to good-paying jobs

Not every student wants or needs to go to a four-year college, and that shouldn’t be the only path to a good-paying job that can support a family.

For some, community college offers an affordable pathway to a secure career and a middle-class livelihood. For others, advanced technical training can help them develop the skills they need to build economic security. These are critical elements to our economic competitiveness – after all, well-trained workers give us a powerful advantage in the global marketplace. And they are particularly important as our economy continues to change and more jobs require advanced science, technology, engineering, and math skills.

Many community and technical colleges don’t have the resources they need to fully meet the training needs and demands of their communities. Unfortunately, a tiny fraction of the Department of Education’s budget goes to support technical, adult, and career education. And federal funding for apprenticeships is even smaller.

We need to increase our investments in these options so that all Americans, from high school graduates to adult workers looking to improve their skills and their salaries can find the right next steps – and their own paths to good-paying jobs and fulfilling careers — without having to take on crippling student loan debt.