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Creating a level playing field

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren | 2/26/2014, 10:38 a.m.

This is a special moment in history. In August, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of equality and called for action. Later this year, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the enduring legacies of the March on Washington. The Civil Rights Act was a landmark moment in the ongoing fight for equality, enshrining in law the principle that ensure no one should be discriminated against because of who they are.

The country has come a long way since the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, but there is much more to do to keep the progress we have made and ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to get ahead.

The threat to move us backward is real: the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is already being felt across the country. The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important civil rights statutes ever enacted by this country. It was designed to protect voters from discrimination and has been an incredible success for over 40 years. In 2006, it was reauthorized by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. Now the Supreme Court has decided to rip out some of the act’s most important provisions, pushing the country in the wrong direction — and we need to push back against efforts that restrict people’s right to vote.

It is also critical to fight for a level playing field for hardworking families, and for the kinds of investments that strengthen our communities and help build a future. One of my top priorities in the Senate is working to invest in education. The federal government should be a strong partner for our cities and towns, working together to ensure our public schools are providing a quality education for our kids. In 2013, the graduation rate for African American high school students in Massachusetts was 73.8 percent, significantly lower than the statewide average of 85 percent. We need to end this disparity and close the achievement gap.

I’m also focused on ways we can improve affordability and increase access to higher education. Today, it is more critical than ever that young people get some form of higher education after they leave high school. But right now, $1.2 trillion in total student loan debt is crushing our young people and making it harder for them to pay for college and get on their feet after graduation. African American students are hit especially hard, leaving school with higher debt burdens than other students. Meanwhile, the government is making billions in dollars of profit every year off the federal student loan program. This is wrong. We need to wring these profits out of the federal student loan system, and invest the money right back into helping our kids get an education.

In addition to improving access to a high quality education, we need to bolster our investments in community development to help strengthen our economy and revitalize our neighborhoods. That means making sure there are enough good jobs for everyone who is looking for work, and raising the minimum wage so that no one who works full time is in poverty.

It also means ensuring that families can access affordable housing. We’re still recovering from the mortgage crisis, and foreclosures hit communities of color particularly hard. I strongly believe that we need to address our nation’s foreclosure crisis with a housing policy that fires on all cylinders: principal write downs, refinancing options for homes that are underwater, cash for keys, and short sales. We have to take serious and hard steps to keep the housing market on track so that we can continue rebuilding our economy.

This month, as we celebrate African-American history and recall the struggles and achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, let’s reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every kid in every community — from Roxbury to Springfield, Worcester to Brockton and beyond — has the same opportunity to succeed. I’m going to do my part in the Senate to support the kind of efforts that help us level the playing field and build a stronger future together.