A Student Bill of Rights: to ensure higher education is a path out of poverty…not into it

By: Bob Wieckowski

Note: The Silicon Valley Young Democrats (SVYD) approved Assemblymember Wieckowski’s Student Bill of Rights during their March Membership meeting and it went on to be approved by the California Young Democrats (CYD) at the California Democratic Convention in April.

A college degree is still the best road to financial security, helping to improve quality of life for millions of American families. But with the soaring cost of higher education, the route is paved with too many potholes. A few wrong turns and poor choices can lead students straight off the road of financial prosperity, into a ditch filled with crippling debt.

In fact, with student loan debt now hovering above $1 trillion nationally, many financial experts predict this mass of red ink could swamp our economy. But with some key reforms we can make sure education remains a pathway out of poverty, not into it.

That’s why I am proposing a Student Bill of Rights, a four-bill package that focuses on debt prevention through education and easing the burden on student borrowers.

In the past decade, starting salaries for college graduates have fallen 15 percent, while education debt has soared 500 percent. Unlike federal student loans, which have multiple options for of deferment and forbearance, private student loans lack many of these crucial safeguards. With private student loans, a creditor can garnish 25 percent of a debtor’s disposable income. Preventing wage garnishment will make the lenders more inclined to work with students on manageable repayment plans and give graduates a chance to stabilize their finances.

This is why I introduced AB 233, which would allow a student debtor to claim an exemption from a wage garnishment on private student loans. It now awaits action in the Senate.

Students should also receive counseling on private loans, just as they do on federal student loans. Private loans, which are becoming more of a necessity for students seeking degrees, charge higher interest rates, lack several protections and are generally a riskier transaction. By requiring parity with the counseling students receive on federal loans, AB 534 ensures students will be able to make more informed decisions.

Recently, Congress designated April as Financial Literacy Month. But California is one of only four states that do not include personal financial literacy in their economic education standards. My Student Bill of Rights would create a Common Cents curriculum (AB 391) that includes coursework on savings, checking accounts, credit cards and ways to pay for college.

Last year college students took out more than $100 billion in loans. They are taking on more and more debt at an alarming level. Yet Congress in 2005 prohibited student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy. Virtually every kind of debt — even gambling debt — can be discharged through bankruptcy.

Since that time, the average student loan debt has increased 58 percent to more than $27,000. This needs to end. I am pushing Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR 11) to urge Congress to allow private student loan debt to be discharged via bankruptcy.

In his State of the Union address this year, President Barack Obama asked us to better equip our students for jobs in a high-tech economy. The Public Policy Institute of California says the state needs to dramatically increase its number of college graduates to meet the demands of its workforce in 2025.

The road to a strong and vibrant economic future for California will be much smoother if we act now to reduce rapidly growing student debt. Providing an affordable avenue to higher education has made California the ninth largest economy in the world. Burying students with thousands of dollars of debt will limit opportunity and financial security.

California can do better.

Upcoming Event: Student Bill of Rights

If you are available, please join Assemblymember Wieckowski on the UC Davis Campus (East Quad) on Wednesday, 5/22 @ 12:30pm, where student leaders will gather for a Rally to Tackle the Student Debt Crisis and urge the Legislature to pass the Student Bill of Rights.

Women are Fighters

By Alex Wara

For the past decades women have always been told that they were not allowed to do something in society. We were told that we were not equal, so women marched at Seneca Falls. We were told that we were not allowed to make choices about our own bodies, so we took our case to the Supreme Court. We were told that a woman could never dream of holding prominent positions in government, so we ran for office.

 

Every time women have been told that they couldn’t do something, we have proven naysayers wrong and done something about it.

 

However, the sad reality is that even today when women are running for President, holding positions at multi-million dollar companies and becoming role models in their communities, there are still stereotypes and sexism that lingers in society.

 

We cannot ignore the fact that women still make seventy-seven cents on the dollar. Or that we still have to listen to our country argue about whether a woman should be able to make a decision about her own body and how we are still not clear on the definition of rape, when issues such as immigration, gun violence and the deficit take a back seat.

 

Here is something that many know but some have yet to find out: Women are fighters.

 

Just take a look back at the women’s history movement. There have been women that knew very well that they would be threatened, mistreated and tried to be stopped, but they kept fighting through all of the obstacles because they knew that there would be a better tomorrow for themselves and for those in front of them.

 

Even women today have to carry on the fight that women were fighting years ago.

 

It is up to every single woman and man to keep on fighting for equal rights for everyone, no matter their ethnicity, pay scale or sex.

 

As individuals we have to think about what we are doing to eliminate sexism in the work place and in our schools. When a woman is passed up for a job because of the sole fact that she is female, we shouldn’t call ourselves an equal world. When a little girl who is 5 years old already knows that she is not equal to her classmate, we still have work to do. When a high school student is too ashamed of the way she looks, we still have a long path ahead of us. Also, when someone doesn’t vote for a qualified candidate because she is a woman we cannot call ourselves a politically open minded country.

 

That is why it’s important to continue on the conversation about equality in our homes and communities. Think about the last time you mentored a young woman or volunteered at an organization that helps women and children in your community. Did you make your voice heard at the ballot box? Or did you stand back and let others guide the direction of your rights.

 

We cannot move forward unless we continue the fights that have been started for us and fight the new ones that have arisen.

 

Many people locally and nationally have started to bridge the gap of inequality but it seems that we have a long road ahead of us.

 

Not all of the issues will be fixed overnight but the sooner we get started the sooner we can build on the changes that those behind us started.

 

Let’s continue the fights that women have been fighting for decades.

Fired Up, Ready To Go

State of SVYD 2013, by President Joshua Barousse

 

It is so refreshing to serve for a Party whose mission supports progressive ideals such as accessible healthcare, comprehensive immigration reform, and equal rights for all. The Silicon Valley Young Democrats has the unique opportunity to support numerous young professionals, recent college graduates, and young high school and college students who share that vision, enthusiastically ready to serve the community, and potentially dedicate a career to the field of government and politics.
 

Our Executive Board has been working tirelessly, and I am proud of what our membership has accomplished over the last year. Last August, thanks to the leadership of SVYD Treasurer, Colleen Haley, we hosted our First Annual Summer Fundraiser, which gave us the capacity to make valuable monetary contributions to SVYD-endorsed candidates and initiatives. Last summer we also established a unique partnership with the OFA San Jose Office and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party to engage in a voter outreach program at the San Jose Pride Festival. Last September, thanks to the leadership of SVYD Political Director, Eric Hernandez, we conducted our SVYD endorsement process, and announced our support for candidates and initiatives that share our common Democratic values and ideals. Last December, we hosted our 4th annual SVYD Holiday Party and Toy Drive, contributing over 65 toys to deserving families of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry, a local agency that provides services to the Washington community in San Jose. We also raised funds to help offset the costs for our members to attend the CA Democratic Party Convention this April in Sacramento. And last month, over 35 Young Democrats in Santa Clara County ran in local Assembly District caucus elections to serve as delegates to the State Party convention, the vast majority successful in their efforts.

 

Countless members served as Campaign Managers and staff for Congressional, State Legislative, City Council, and School Board races this past 2012 General Election season, and many were also recently elected and appointed to serve on local Boards and Commissions. This list includes Darcie Green, who was appointed to the Santa Clara County Board of Education, Andres Quintero, who was appointed to the Alum Rock Union School District Board, and Kalen Gallagher, who was elected to the Campbell Union High School District Board. SVYD Secretary, Victoria Ramirez was appointed to the County of Santa Clara’s Commission on the Status of Women, and Lucas Ramirez, appointed to the City of Mountain View’s Human Relations Commission. Cory Wolbach was recently elected as President of the Peninsula Young Democrats (PYD) and Jeremy Barousse, elected President of the District 8 Community Roundtable (D8 CRT). Victoria Ramirez, Lucas Ramirez, Laura Pederson, Richard Nguyen, and Alex Shoor were all selected to serve as fellows with the New Leaders Council- Silicon Valley Leadership Institute. Eric Hernandez and Jordan Eldridge recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Santa Maria Urban Ministry.

 

I am extremely humbled to serve as SVYD President at this exciting period. Although we have indeed accomplished a lot thus far, we still have a lot of work to do. The SVYD Executive Board just launched our new SVYD website and blog space, and recently released a 2013 Issues Survey to identify important issues to further educate ourselves and advocate on behalf of. I am also proud to announce with the leadership of SVYD Vice President of Membership, Brandon Li, a new Women’s Membership Initiative, and a Women’s Leadership Committee, co-chaired by SVYD Secretary, Victoria Ramirez and Laura Pedersen. And of course, we all collectively will continue to reach out and recruit other young professionals and community leaders to join our membership, to foster the development of those who would to dedicate a career to the field of politics, to run for public office and serve on local boards and commissions.

 

Thank you for this most wonderful opportunity to lead this wonderful organization moving forward, and am anticipating an exciting year ahead. Fired up…ready to go!

Endorsements 2012

Federal

Barack Obama, U.S. President

Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate

Mike Honda, CD 17

Anna Eshoo, CD 18

Zoe Lofgren, CD 19

State

Jerry Hill, SD 13

Jim Beall / Joe Coto, SD 15 (dual)

Bill Monning, SD 17

Rich Gordon, AD 24

Bob Wieckowski, AD 25

Nora Campos, AD 27

Paul Fong, AD 28

Mark Stone, AD 29

Luis Alejo, AD 30

City

Robert Braunstein. San Jose City Council

Dr. Peter Arellano, Mayor of Gilroy

Rebeca Armendariz, Gilroy City Council

Marc Berman, Palo Alto City Council

Chris Clark, Mountain View City Council

School Districts

Mayra Cruz, San Jose Evergreen Community College District

Wendy Ho, San Jose Evergreen Community College District

Leo Cortez, San Jose Evergreen Community College District

Teresa Castellanos, San Jose Unified School District

Maya Esparza, Franklin-McKinley School District

Kalen Gallagher, Campbell Union High School District

Bonnie Mace, Evergreen Elementary School District

Doron Aranson, Cambrian School District

Special Districts

David Ginsborg, Santa Clara Valley Water District

SVYD Endorsed Initiatives- 2012 General Election

Local

  • Measure A: Santa Clara County 1/8 cent sales tax  YES
  • Measure B: Santa Clara Valley Water District parcel tax renewal  YES
  • Measure D: City of San Jose increase minimum wage YES
  • Measure E: City of San Jose Card Room Gaming YES

Statewide

  • Proposition 30: Protects funding for schools and local public safety YES
  • Proposition 31: Locks California into permanent underfunding of education, health, and other vital services NO
  • Proposition 32: Creates special exemptions for billionaires and Super PACs allowing them to buy elections NO
  • Proposition 33Auto insurance rate hike NO
  • Proposition 34: Repeals death penalty and replaces with life without parole YES
  • Proposition 35: Increases penalties for human trafficking YES
  • Proposition 36: Reforms “Three Strikes” law YES
  • Proposition 37: Labeling of genetically engineered foods YES
  • Proposition 38: Munger initiative NO
  • Proposition 39: Adjusts taxes for multi-state corporations to fund clean energy programs NEUTRAL
  • Proposition 40: Referendum on State Senate district boundaries – a yes vote affirms the outcome of the independent redistricting commission process YES