Wednesday’s House Finance Committee meeting drew a lot of attention as Governor Gina Raimondo testified in support of her plan to provide free college for qualifying students. It is a truly progressive idea, but Raimondo couched her support in terms legislators are prone to appreciate: Job growth, economic stimulus and the like. After Raimondo spoke House Finance was hit with hours of testimony from experts speaking in support Raimondo’s free college plan, but far more interesting were the comments of the 11 high school students who spoke.
The students have different concerns. Their concerns are about the future they will live in, the one that we are bequeathing them. In today’s climate, suffused as it is by greed and political cowardice, that future, to many of these students, looks rather bleak.
But these students aren’t knuckling under: They are fighting for the future they want, and we can prepare the way for them by providing them the tools they need to build the future they want to live in. Too many of our students face an impossible choice: ignorance or debt peonage. We can do better. Towards that end, we need to listen:
House Finance Chair Marvin Abney was courteous to the students, but overall the attitude, as I saw it, was condescending. This was unfortunate. The students are our hopes for the future, and infantilizing their concerns while prioritizing the politically motivated concerns of so-called economic “thought leaders” signals a disregard for those who will inhabit the future in favor of those who are conniving to own it.