The only issue you should vote on in the next US presidential election: education

Our education system is falling short. More than a quarter of our students fail to graduate high school in four years. Of those who do, less than a quarter are ready to attend a college or university. The achievement gap between low-income and wealthy students is up 40% since the 1960s. The imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion—the single most important predictor of success in the workforce—has grown nearly 50% since the 1980s. If these graduation rates don’t improve the US economy will be short three million college educated workers by 2018. Our schools—and our country’s future—are facing a crisis.

And many Americans know this. Over the last 10 years, I’ve traveled around the country and had the opportunity to speak with a lot of parents and teachers. One of the things I consistently hear from folks is that they feel our nation’s public school system is failing. Most of these people tell me that public education is an important issue to them, but all too often these very same people turn around and vote for politicians who keep the status quo in our public schools. They may care about education as an issue, but not enough to let it determine how they vote.

As a lifelong education advocate, this raises a lot of questions for me. Why do people think our public education system is less important than national security? Why do they think our public education system is less important than economic policies? I’m telling you right now that if you care about national security and the economy then you should be voting based on a single issue: fixing our public schools.

Last month, I was in New York speaking at the NationSwell Council. I spoke about the country’s need for single-issue voters who look first and foremost at a candidate’s position on education policies. We need voters in 2016 and beyond looking at their ballot and voting for people who are committed to fixing our public schools. Right now, too many people let national security, healthcare, the economy, guns, and social programs overshadow their concerns about public education.

If we don’t fix our public education system now, then we will face a future where our middle class erodes and people in other countries have taken those jobs. If we don’t start making sure that every child has a good education, then we fall farther and farther behind other countries.

So, you’re going to vote for a politician because he says he will protect your pension? Well it won’t matter if there aren’t enough people working good jobs to keep it solvent. You’re going to vote for someone because of his or her foreign policy credentials? Well, it won’t matter if our economy continues to suffer and we lose international leverage. You’re going to vote for someone because he or she is a Democrat and support social services? Well, we won’t have social services if our middle class continues to decline.

If you go to the polls and vote for someone who will fix our pubic schools, then you care about the economy. If you vote for someone who will fix our pubic schools, then you care about foreign policies. If you vote someone who will fix our pubic schools, then you care about social services. Right now, making sure Americans are well educated is the single most important issue facing voters.

We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we want to continue to put a Band-Aid on a broken system and watch it crash. The choice we have is to make education a priority and build it back up, better and stronger than ever before. When you speak to a candidate, don’t ask them if education is a priority. Ask them what they will do to fix our failing public schools. If she or he doesn’t have a good answer, then tell them they do not have your vote. Period.

You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleRhee. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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